Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership

Title: As I Was Saying
Author: G. K. Chesterton
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0900741.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2009
Date most recently updated: September 2009

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to


Title: As I Was Saying
Author: G. K. Chesterton

* * *



* * *

I About Mad Metaphors

Over and above the horrible rubbish-heap of the books I have written,
now filling the pulping-machines or waste-paper baskets of the world,
there are a vast number of books that I have never written, because a
providential diversion interposed to protect the crowd of my
fellow-creatures who could endure no more. Among these, I remember,
there was one particularly outrageous narrative, something between a
pantomime and a parable on a variation of what the new psychologists
would call a wish-fulfilment. Like most of the notions of the new
psychologists, it is a notion familiar to the most far-off and
antiquated fabulists. It is found in every book of folk-lore under the
title of "The Three Wishes"; especially that excellent essay on the
Vanity of Human Wishes, in which a man had to waste the brief
omnipotence of a god in establishing right relations with a black
pudding. But in my story, the black pudding was not so black or so
indigestible as that producing the nightmares of Freud. Mine, like his,
was such stuff as dreams are made of; but mine was only stuff and
nonsense and not that perilous stuff that weighs upon the heart. So far
as I remember it, it was an exceedingly mad sort of story; but _that_
would not have saved it from the serious libraries of modern mental

It was something about some people who had reached so sensitized and
transparent a state of imagination that when they mentioned anything it
materialized before their eyes; and this applied even to metaphors or
figures of speech which they had not consciously conceived as material.
Thus, if two lovers were talking and taking tea in a rose-covered
cottage in a quiet English village, and one of them happened to say, "Of
course, it may be rather a white elephant," a huge and hulking white
elephant immediately strode up the street, trampled down the roses, and
put his head in at the rose-wreathed window. Or if the genial old
squire, walking under the quiet elms of his ancestral park, crumpled up
a newspaper containing a political scandal, and said impatiently, "The
man's got hold of a mare's-nest," he would instantly behold, high above
him in the tossing top of the elm tree, the familiar form of Black Bess
out of the stables, kicking and plunging in a well-meant effort to lay
eggs. The most harmless comic man would be unable to say "Strike me
sky-blue scarlet," without a complex change in his complexion, or even
to say "Till all is blue," without transforming the whole landscape to a
monochrome tint, with blue cows or blue babies disporting themselves
under a blue moon.

The effect of this, I conceive, would be to introduce a certain
austerity and restraint into human speech. A plain and unadorned style
would prevail in literary circles. Fastidious writers would be even more
in terror of introducing a mixed metaphor; for a mixed metaphor walking
down the street would be even more terrifying than such hybrids as a
centaur or a griffin. But he would observe considerable economy even in
making metaphors, let alone mixing them. For him, as for Mrs. Malaprop,
an allegory would be as devouring as an alligator. It is a very old
moral that when we get what we want we sometimes find that we do not
want it; but it would be an alarming addition to the prospect if we
always got anything, not only when we wanted it, but whenever we
mentioned it. And the vague idea at the back of my undeveloped vision
was to describe a sort of dizzy whirlwind of wish-fulfilments and dreams
come true; and to suggest how intolerable such imaginative omnipotence
would really be. It would be like walking upon ever-sinking and shifting
shingle; on ground in which we could get no purchase for our movements
or activities. A world in which the whole solidity of things had gone
soft would be the essential environment of softening of the brain. We
should end by shrieking aloud for the resistance of reality; ready to
give up all our paradise of magic powers for the pleasure of planting
our foot on a sharp nail or barking our shins upon a box. Something very
like that nightmare of luxury and liberty may be felt in much of the
more irresponsible or lawless literature of our own time, in which a man
is driven to deny everything because he has been denied nothing; and
discovers in an omnipotence to which he has no claim, an impotence for
which he has no cure.

It may seem rather far-fetched to connect the nonsense about the
physical metaphors with the notion about the philosophical despair.
Figures of speech are risky; for in art, as in arithmetic, many have no
head for figures. I will meekly claim more suitability in my symbols
than there is in some of those wonderful modern analyses of the meaning
of dreams; in which digging up a cabbage and putting it in a hat-box is
the spontaneous spiritual expression of a desire to murder your father;
or watching a green cat climb a yellow lamp-post the clearest possible
way of conveying that you want to bolt with the barmaid. And metaphor
does really play a special part in the sort of mad metaphysics that I
have in mind. Those who suffer this particular sort of modern softening
of the brain have a great tendency to preserve the metaphor long after
they have lost the meaning. The figures of speech are like fossil
figures of archaic fowls or fishes, made of some stonier deposit and set
in the heart of more sandy or crumbling cliffs. The abstract parts of
the mind, which should be the strongest, become the weakest; and the
mere figures of the fancy, which should be the lightest, become the most
heavy and the most hard.

Many must have noticed this in a newspaper report, and still more in a
newspaper criticism. Images that are used as illustrations are repeated
without any reference to anything that they illustrate. If the incident
of the Rich Young Man in the Gospels had been reported by a local
newspaper, we should only be told that the Teacher had called him a
camel, and invited him to jump through a needle. We should know nothing
of the point of the needle--or the story. If the Death of Socrates were
condensed into a journalistic paragraph, there would be no room for the
remarks on immortality, and not much even for the cup of hemlock; but
only a special mention of a request to somebody to buy a cock--perhaps
turned by the report into a cocktail. This often makes the art of
illustrative argument a somewhat delicate and even dangerous occupation.
When we know that people will remember the metaphor, even when they
cannot realize the meaning, it is a little perilous to choose metaphors
with mere levity, even if they are quite consistent with more logic.
Suppose I say in some political case that England had better go the
whole hog, as did, indeed, some of those followers of Tariff Reform who
were called Whole-Hoggers. I shall have to be very careful to explain,
somehow, that I am not really identifying the English with hogs, but
that it is only some bright facets of the hog that I compare with my
beloved country, and that the quality in question is only a special and
spiritual sort of hoggishness. Otherwise the audience, remembering
everything I said about the pig, and forgetting ever thing I said about
the point, will go away under the impression that I addressed them all
as swine. They will attribute to me certain familiar and even
old-fashioned depreciations of the English; as that England is stupid,
or England is stubborn; in short, that England is, in the apt and
appropriate phrase, pig-headed. There will go along with this other
notions, equally true and trustworthy; as that England has four trotters
and a snout, not to mention a little curly tail behind. But, in fact, I
may, in a pure spirit of lyric praise, compare my country to a pig, so
long as I explain it is in the noble and exalted aspects of a pig; as
that he gives us the glorious gift of bacon, or that he is said to be
highly delicate and chivalrous in his relations to his lady-love; or
that, being rejected by Turks and Jews, he has almost become a sacred
emblem of Christendom. Otherwise, if you talk about hogs, even Hampshire
hogs, you will sound like a traitor to Hampshire.

You think the mere mention of hogs could raise no such storm. I mention
that the mere mention of dogs really did. I once remarked that a new
religion sometimes dies before the old one; and used Goldsmith's phrase
for the unexpected: "The dog it was that died." A publicist denounced me
in public for calling all my religious opponents dogs! It marks the
folly of fixing on figures of speech. For had he followed the meaning,
and not the metaphor, he might have made a real repartee, by retorting
that it was the man who survived who was mad.

II About Loving Germans

Why is it that those who admire foreign nations always ask us to admire
them for the nastiest things about them? Those who abuse foreign nations
are mostly mere fools, as distinct from those who abuse the abuses of
foreign nations. That is quite allowable; but it is well to balance it
by occasionally abusing the abuses of our own nation. In my own jog-trot
journalistic existence, I have generally tried to keep this balance, and
to distribute abuse and vituperation in such elegant and well-chosen
proportions, that nobody can be offended or feel that he has been left
out of the fun. Those who abuse abuses are right; and even those who
stare at strange uses are not very wrong. The rude forefathers of the
hamlet do not always mean to be rude. Unfamiliarity breeds contempt. But
not the most contemptible sort of contempt. I mean the man who laughs at
a _gendarme,_ when he has never in his life ventured to laugh at the
much more pantomimic costume of a policeman. These people, in a sense,
abuse foreign nations; but it is their great glory that they admit that
they laugh at them because they do not understand them, and not because
they pretend that they do. But neither of these two types, the reformer
who rebukes on principle or the rustic who laughs out of mere surprise,
throws any light on the problem of the third kind of critic, who
concerns me just now. Why, I repeat, do those who urge us to love our
enemies, or merely like our neighbours, seem to have no notion of what
it is that men really love or like? Why do they always point out as
supreme merits the things that most normal men, if they do not actually
hate, tend more or less to dislike?

We all know that one of the real Opportunities of Travel is the chance
of escaping the guide and being able to contradict the guide-book. And
this really is a benefit that can only be obtained by travel. If you
merely stay at home, you will probably read books, and books with all
the prejudices of guide-books; if not, you will read newspapers, often
containing pronouncements upon Europe or America far below the mental
level of any tout who tries to get a tip by showing you round an Italian
ruin. In short, we all know that the real pleasures of the tripper are
those that are not supposed to be part of the trip; the small, touching,
humanizing sights that really do tell us that all human beings are parts
of one humanity; such as the domestic scene I beheld in the most Moslem
part of Palestine, the episode of a Moslem woman shouting and yelling
abuse of her husband across the breadth of a small lake, while the
husband stood helpless and evidently unable to think of any repartee.
This made me feel, with a warm touch of sentiment, that home is home
everywhere, and is not so very much altered even where a home may be a
harem. Now, you cannot arrange a tour with a view to little things like
that. I could no more have planned that this particular woman should
boil over at this particular moment than I could pay a few _lire_ to
obtain an eruption of Vesuvius. But it was immeasurably more forcible
and impressive than Vesuvius. For it is the little things and not the
large things that touch this tricky international nerve which reminds us
that we are all made on the same anatomical plan and that the Image of
God is everywhere. What I complain of in the internationalist
interpreters is that they seem to have no notion of what these small and
attractive things are. Bring me the ordinary international pamphlet on
the claims of Ruthenia, with maps and statistics and all the rest, and I
shall probably end the perusal by hating the poor Ruthenians, whom I
never saw and hardly ever heard of, simply because the international
reconcilers do not understand why men hate or love.

I will take the hardest cases of the two nations with which, in a
political sense, I am perhaps least in sympathy: Germany and Japan. The
Germany praised by the Pro-Germans is much nastier than the Germany
abused by the Anti-Germans. The former generally contrive to convey the
impression of a human hive, of all horrible things, which very soon and
very naturally becomes an inhuman hive. They give me stiff and bristling
statistics about exports and imports, manufacture and machinery,
strictly enforced regulations, very advanced scientific legislation, and
everything else that stinks to heaven. They suggest that the German is
alone industrious; by which they mean industrial. As a matter of fact,
that industrial type is not generally any more industrious, if so much,
as what we used to call the idle and lounging peasant of the South, who
works hours before any of us dream of waking up, and sometimes hours
after we go to bed; but rests in the heat of the middle of the day, not
being a born fool. But, anyhow, in so far as it is true that the Germans
are very industrious, did you ever hear of anybody loving anybody merely
because he was industrious?

In short, it is thought an insult to call Germans sausages; but it is a
compliment to call them sausage-machines. But many people like sausages,
and nobody particularly likes sausage-machines. A British statesman, in
the very middle of the war, solemnly told us that there are two
Germanies: the bad Germany of despotism, militarism, and armed
aristocracy; and the good Germany of science and commerce and chemicals
used for various purposes. I remember thinking at the time, and even
saying at the time, that I had much more sympathy with a soldier dying
for the Kaiser than with an expert working for the Krupps. Again, one
does not love experts; especially experts in poison-gas. One may fear
them, and, in consequence, one may fight them. But international
idealists are even now talking of Germany as the land of science and
industry and technical improvement.

Now Germany is not as bad as all that. It has temptations of barbarism,
and especially of mythology, but it has touches of the better mythology
which is not a myth. My examples of small things would doubtless sound
very small indeed. Summoned before the International Peace Conference, I
should cause general disappointment if I said: "The Germans have
produced one particular kind of Christmas Card which is unlike anything
in the world. It really mingles the natural mystery of the forests with
the preternatural mystery of the Christmas tree, and truly sets the Star
of Bethlehem in a northern sky. To look at the best of these little
pictures is to feel at once like a man who has received a sacrament and
a child who has heard the whole of a fairy-tale. And when I look at
those queer little coloured pictures, full of a sort of holy goblins, I
_know_ there is something in Germany that can be loved, and that perhaps
is not yet lost."

I have no space to say much about the parallel of Japan, but the moral,
it may be noted, is the same. Publicists have sometimes praised Japan
for possessing all the qualities of Prussia, as if Prussianism were a
term of praise. But I once crossed the Atlantic and watched a little
Japanese playing with his little goblins of children, and I have never
been quite so Anti-Japanese since.

My phrase that the Germans have a weakness for Mythology, has been
queried; but I do not use it as a mere term of abuse; for, indeed, I
think I have a weakness for Mythology myself. Only I try not to regard
my weakness as my strength. I could never read some huge, primitive myth
about how the world was made out of a dead giant, the sky being his
skull, or the sun and moon his eyes, or the sea his green blood, without
wishing for one wild moment that I were the infant Hottentot or Eskimo
who heard some such story from his grandmother and stood drinking it all
in as innocently as I should like to do. I can never read of one of
those baffling and fascinating totem-heroes who seems at once to be a
man and a bald-headed eagle, or what not; and how he stole fire from the
sun for the use of men, or cracked the sky to let in the upper sea,
which is the rain, without wishing faintly that I were in the first
morning of the world, when such things could be believed. Perhaps the
Germans are still in the morning of the world. Perhaps there is that
streak of truth in all their talk about their race as one descended from
gods and heroes. I am well aware, however, that they have another side,
which may seem paradoxically opposite; a literal and laborious side
which deals with details very much in detail. And, lest some German
professor should take my mythological weakness too seriously, I hasten
to explain that there are no such myths as the two I have mentioned,
though there are myths very similar. I made them up out of my own head.
But the curious thing is that, in certain other departments, this is
exactly what the Germans do.

There are certain primitive elements in the German people which are in
truth faintly suggested in the very fact that they call the people a
folk. To do it justice, it is a folk that is still producing folk-lore.
A very agreeable product; but it must be admitted that, as in the case
of the bald-headed eagle who cracked the sky, folk-lore is not always
identical with fact. There are other elements that have this rather
indescribable quality. We see it, for instance, in the particular _kind_
of unity which the Germans exhibit from time to time. It is not, despite
all their discipline, merely a disciplined unity. It is a gregarious
unity. Civilization, like religion, is a thing many people are
explaining, in the hope of explaining away. These connect the
Commonwealth with the Herd Instinct. But I think Germany is the only
nation in which it is a Herd Instinct. In a word, there is something
about them that is prehistoric. Even their learned professors, in a very
special sense, are often prehistoric. I mean that, learned as they are,
they seem never to have heard of history.

But I repeat that this quality is not in itself odious, but sometimes
almost lovable. On the whole, Mythology is a much better thing than
Propaganda. Mythology is simply believing whatever you can imagine.
Propaganda is, more often, believing that other people will believe
whatever you can invent. There is something more than a mere manufacture
of lies about the unexhausted Teuton power in the production of myths.
That is why I try to be polite to the German professor, and call him
prehistoric, when ruder spirits might be content to call him
unhistorical. But I take it as certain that the _spirit_ in the German
way of telling the German story is entirely unhistorical. With all their
external parade of science, their motive is not scientific. Their motive
is that of a tribal tradition magnifying and exaggerating the heroes and
victories of the tribe. Nobody denies that they have had heroes and
victories; but the way of dealing with them is utterly out of
proportion. It is quite natural that they should tell us how the
spirited skirmish of Arminius cut off a few legions of Augustus. But to
hear some of them telling it, one would think that Arminius had defeated
the whole Roman Army and even menaced the whole Roman Empire. I doubt
whether there was ever any moment in history when it could truly be said
that the Teutons had conquered the Roman Empire. But it is idle to
speculate about events of those remote times, when the whole point of
the position is that the same thing is going on in our own time.

The extraordinary thing about Germany is that it can still produce
modern myths like the ancient myths. There is something almost innocent
in their spontaneity, and especially in their suddenness. They created
out of nothing the story that all Teutonic barbarians, unlike all Celtic
or Slavonic barbarians, were, for some mysterious reason, a race of
golden-haired gods. They have created stories quite as stupendous within
the last year or two. And, above all, they have credited what they
created. The Teuton doubles the part of the creative poet and the
credulous listener. He tells himself tales and believes them. He lives
in a different world from ours; perhaps at once an older and a younger
one. He explains to us, to some extent, how it was that primitive men
could worship images that were obviously only imaginations. It does not
matter, for the purposes of this argument, whether we think such a world
of imagination lower or higher than reality. We have already heard the
saying of a great German who must have really understood the Germans:
"In the beginning God gave to the French the land and to the English the
sea and to the Germans the clouds."

Thus there is a New Myth spread quite recently and rapidly over all
Germany, almost in a few months. The New Myth is that Germany was never
defeated in the Great War. You could not have a more astounding and
catastrophic collision than that, between mythology and history. But the
point is that the mythology is actually more modern than the history.
All Germans apparently find it easy to believe it; though I can imagine
few things more difficult to believe than a statement like that: that a
great and somewhat arrogant Empire consented to sink the whole of its
fleet and give up all its colonies, as well as nearly all its conquests
in foreign countries, when it had not really been defeated. But this
cloud, as it lies on the mind of a whole people, now looks as solid as a
mountain. It may remain as a legend quite as fixed as that which makes
Arminius rather more important than Augustus. The other part of the New
Myth is that the complete surrender of all the German armies was somehow
or other brought about by the Jews. I have never underrated the real
problem of the international position of the Jews; but I should say that
this was just about the sort of thing that the Jews alone could not
possibly do. Judas could betray the Redeemer of the world; but he could
hardly bribe Caesar to surrender the Empire of the world to the

But the point is not that you and I could never believe it in a thousand
years. The point is that the Germans themselves did not believe it until
within about two years. There is no evidence that the average German,
for the first five or six years after his defeat, had even the faintest
doubt that he had been defeated. He might think he was unjustly
defeated, or unjustly treated after defeat; and he would have a right to
his opinion, though there are others whose opinion I think more sound.
But most of such men would have thought it sheer madness to deny the
very calamity from which they suffered. These people are not the only
people among whom a theorist may throw out a theory that might well
appear mad. But they are the only people among whom that theory can be
instantly and universally believed. To make up history after it has
happened, and to make it up all different, may seem to some to have
something even wildly poetical and attractive about it. But in practical
politics these immense international illusions are very dangerous; and
the clouds in which these people live have broken before now about us,
not only in rain, but in lightning and falling fire.

III About Impenitence

Well aware of how offensive I make myself, and with what loathing I may
well be regarded, in this sentimental age which pretends to be cynical,
and in this poetical nation which pretends to be practical, I shall
nevertheless continue to practise in public a very repulsive trick or
habit--the habit of drawing distinctions; or distinguishing between
things that are quite different, even when they are assumed to be the
same. I cannot be content with being a Unionist or a Universalist or a
Unitarian. I have again and again blasphemed against and denied the
perfect Oneness of chalk and cheese; and drawn fanciful distinctions,
ornithological or technological, between hawks and handsaws. For in
truth I believe that the only way to say anything definite is to define
it, and all definition is by limitation and exclusion; and that the only
way to say something distinct is to say something distinguishable; and
distinguishable from everything else. In short, I think that a man does
not know what he is saying until he knows what he is not saying.

At this moment, if we were to judge by a general direction, by a vague
unanimity existing in very varying degrees, and consisting of opinions
rather similar but not the same, we should certainly say there was a
universal wave of pacifism, just as in 1914 there was a general wave of
patriotism. And when I say pacifism, I do not mean peace. It is
possible, as I happen to know, to think pacifism a very direct menace to
peace. But I am not debating these political points here. My thesis here
is made up of very varied materials, and also of distinctly different
views. Now, whatever we may think of those views, regarded as general
political views, it will be well to pick out of them certain really
preposterous propositions, as one would weed a patch of soil. Neither
side of any controversy can be the better for mere confusion and
delusion; still less for the confusion of one delusion with another, or
of a delusion with a defensible opinion. There are many forms of
pacifism which are quite defensible opinions, though I personally might
be more inclined to attack than to defend them. There are any number of
forms of peace policy which I should profoundly respect; and some with
which I entirely agree. But one or two fancies have begun to form in the
chaos which are simply fragments of fixed and frozen nonsense.

I have explained that I believe in drawing distinctions; or what is
called splitting hairs. I do not believe in saying breezily that a
fungus is pretty much the same as a fungoid, even if you are hungry and
in a hurry to have mushrooms for breakfast; or agreeing heartily that a
rhombus is the same as a rhomboid, because you have to hustle the
geometricians in some plans for housing or surveying. I think the first
sort of practicality will probably end with a number of people being
poisoned with toadstools, or worse; and the latter with ungeometrical
houses falling down on ungeometrical though practical men of action. And
I wish to point out that you cannot conduct a policy of pacifism, or of
anything else, unless you will consent to distinguish one idea from
another; and to find out where your own ideas came from, and with what
other ideas they conflict. This weeding of the weaker or wilder ideas
out of the mind is simply a practical piece of gardening which applies
to any sort of garden, even the garden of peace; even to a garden
planted with nothing but olives, and undefiled with a single leaf of the

For instance, there is a wild hypothesis now hardening in the minds of
many which has nothing to do with any philosophical case of pacifism,
let alone peace. It is the notion that not fighting, as such, would
prevent somebody else from fighting, or from taking all he wanted
without fighting. It assumes that every pacifist is some strange sort of
blend of a lion-tamer and a mesmerist, who would hold up invading armies
with his glittering eye, like the Ancient Mariner. The pacifist would
paralyse the militarist in all his actions, both militant and
post-militant. Now, there is no sort of sense or even meaning in this
notion at all. It is a muddle and mixture of a number of other and older
pacific traditions, all of them much more reasonable and some of them
quite right. Some of them are ancient attitudes of the saint or sage
towards all sorts of misfortune; some of them are more or less mystical
experiments in psychology, suitable to exceptional cases; some of them
are mere dregs of dramatic or romantic situations, out of particular
novels, plays, or short stories. There have been many great and good men
in the past who have said that they would never need to resist
spoliation or invasion, or would not care if it were irresistible. But
they were almost always one of two types, and were thinking only of one
or two truths. In some of them it meant: "My mind to me a kingdom is.
The inner life is so deep and precious that I do not care if I am
beggared or made an outlaw or even a slave." In the others it meant: "I
know that my avenger liveth. The judgment of this world may beggar or
enslave me, but I shall have justice when I appeal to a higher court."
Both these moral attitudes mean something and something worthy of all
possible respect. But neither of these two types was ever such a fool as
to say that he _could_ not be beggared or enslaved, merely because he
stood stock still like a post and did not resist beggary or enslavement.
Neither of them was so silly as to suppose that there were not men in
the world, wicked or resolute or fanatical or mechanically servile
enough, to do unpleasant things to them, while they were content to do
nothing. The Stoic claimed to endure pain with patience; but he never
claimed that his patience would prevent anybody from causing him pain.
The martyr endured tortures to assert his belief in truth; but he never
asserted his disbelief in torture. The hazy notion, that has been
gathering more and more substance in the modern mind, is quite different
and is really unreasonable. Men who have no intention of abandoning
their country's wealth, not to mention their own, men who rightly insist
on comfort for their countrymen and not infrequently for themselves,
still seem to have formed a strange idea that they can keep all these
things in all conceivable circumstances, solely and entirely by refusing
to defend them. They seem to fancy they could bring the whole reign of
violence and pride to an end, instantly and entirely, merely by doing
nothing. Now it is not easy to do anything by doing nothing.

Oddly enough, the only exceptional hint of truth in this theory of
establishing Peace is the same notion which made rude barbaric groups
sometimes establish Trial by Battle. It was the notion that, under some
very vivid and awful conditions, the man who knew he was in the wrong
might lose his nerve. There was a story about that wicked man, Godwin
the father of Harold, which illustrates the idea; and Scott used it as a
dramatic turn in the death of the Templar. It did occasionally happen
then; it might just conceivably happen now. But it happened because
everybody believed in God, everybody thought the same about perjury and
blasphemy, and a theory of justice was common to those who vindicated
and those who violated it. In the present utter severance in fundamental
ideas, I cannot see why even this exceptional trick should work at all.
The pacifists are only a sect; and Europe is boiling over with equally
sincere militarist and imperialist sects. Does anybody believe that
Hitler or Stalin or Mussolini would ruin all his plans because a Quaker
did not propose to interfere with them?

IV About Traffic

Historians will probably mark the present epoch by the problem of the
Traffic. Unless, indeed, the historians, who are an absent-minded race
of men, have all been killed by the traffic before they can write any
histories of it. It seems an almost fitting fate for almost any literary
man in such a chaos. I hope there is no irreverence to one of the most
beautiful spiritual lyrics in the world if I say that that starry and
blazing phrase of Francis Thompson, "Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's
ladder pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross," has sometimes raised
in me an irrelevant wondering about whether a man could now safely fix
his eyes on the angelic ladder in the middle of Charing Cross and its
more earthly traffic; especially if he were a man like Francis Thompson.
Anyhow, we are now primarily confronted with a problem of Traffic as
Traffic; in the most ordinary meaning of the term. Social reformers of
the last generation used the term as referring to the Drink Traffic; a
little later there was a moral but slightly morbid panic about the White
Slave Traffic; and the writers of detective stories, that blameless and
industrious race, still frequently make their murders and mysteries turn
upon the Drug Traffic. I may say, in passing, that I rather regret this
recent habit of criminological romancers. I like a murder to be
committed by a murderer for the serious moral and spiritual reasons
which make the murder immediately, though erroneously, satisfactory to
his soul and his inner life. I do not like to think that he is a mere
proletarian, dealing out poisons in the impersonal manner of a wholesale
chemist. I dislike official organization even in real life; and it is
dreadful to think of it invading romantic and imaginative life. It is
profoundly disappointing to suspect that somebody, let us say a curate
or a governess, is torn with seven devils of hate or pride or fear or
envy; and then discover that this promising demoniac is only a bright
and efficient salesman, receiving a commission for delivering the
goods--if they can be so described. But this is only a parenthesis,
called forth by my permanent passion for the topic of detective stories.
I only mentioned the drug traffic in incidental comparison with the
driving traffic; and the latter has become a problem quite as big and
practically quite as deadly.

I am not going to propound here any practical solution for the traffic
problem. I am not a rising politician; and not from my hand, or the
waving of my wand, will there ever arise all over London a new forest of
fantastic posts, surmounted by pumpkins or pineapples. But there is an
inference from these things, which is none the less practical because
most practical people will call it theoretical. Indeed, when matters are
in such a muddle as the modern traffic, the only really practical thing
is to find the right theory. Or, at any rate, to be able to detect the
wrong theory; and to form a general judgment upon how far a particular
theory is right or wrong. When these difficulties first appeared, there
was always a bustling, business-like person who went about cursing and
swearing and saying that all that is wanted is organization. But in one
sense it is easy enough to have organization, so long as you have
obedience; and especially obedience to the police. But the limits of
this theoretical truth can be seen at once if we pass from the case of
policemen to the case of soldiers. There must be organization and
obedience in an army. But battles are lost as well as won by concerted
movements of disciplined troops. The question still remains in what
order things are organized; or what orders men have to obey. In the
traffic problem there are now complications of strategy that would have
staggered Hannibal or Napoleon. But we are not yet certain whether they
are part of a victory or a defeat. It is easy to organize traffic, by
ordering that vehicles making the difficult advance from Piccadilly to
Charing Cross had better make a detour round Hampstead Heath and turn up
again somewhere in Cheapside. It is strictly systematic that every
wheeled thing which is to pass from the Strand to Fleet Street should
cross Waterloo Bridge, visit the charming suburbs of South London, look
in on Croydon, and return triumphantly by the Tower Bridge. That is
organization all right; bless its heart--and improve its head. But
neither in military nor in social strategy is there much advantage in
the unity and discipline that means making everybody make the same
mistake at the same moment. The comment I would make is more casual and
general; but it is not without its importance in other problems besides
the problem of traffic.

Just now, for instance, it has a great deal to do with what may be
called the problem of Progress. Many have accused people of my way of
thinking of being merely hostile to Progress; especially in such
scientific forms as petrol traffic. Many, but ill-acquainted with my
habits, seem to suppose that I recoil in horror from a motor-car and
insist on being wheeled about, like Mr. Pickwick, in a wheel-barrow. But
that is not at all the part of Progress that I find problematical. I
have no particular objection to people going about in cars; though I may
regret the curious evolution of the human form in America, where wheels
have completely taken the place of legs. What was not adequately
realized, by those who merely talked about Progress, is simply this:
that Progress is never merely the solving of problems, it is always also
the setting of problems.

Men of the philosophic phase represented by Mr. H. G. Wells always
tended to talk as if we should soon disentangle the knots of past
problems merely by more science and experiment. What they did not see is
that we are always tying new knots and making new tangles, actually
because of science and experiment. Progress is the mother of Problems. I
do not say that Progress is therefore undesirable; or that the problems
are therefore insoluble. I only say there will always be numberless new
problems to solve. Mr. Wells himself has uttered a magnificently defiant
faith that his scientific Utopianism will win through and survive the
reaction against it all over Europe; because, as he says, intelligence
cannot ultimately be defeated. I might say, in passing, that I see no
purely rationalist proof that intelligence cannot be defeated. And I
should rather like to know who decides that Mussolini and Maurras of the
_Action Francaise_ are unintelligent. But the point at the moment is
that men like Mr. Wells did talk as if Progress would be so intelligent
as to relieve us of one problem after another; and did not allow enough
for the fact that Progress itself might add yet another problem. We may,
as a scientific prophet lately said, fly to the stars; though I for one
find the earth far more mysterious. But if we do fly to the stars, there
will be a traffic problem about flying-ships, exactly as there is now a
traffic problem about taxicabs.

That is perhaps the most lasting lesson of the petrol traffic problem.
The problem may disappear. The petrol traffic may disappear. But
meanwhile we pass through what is a nightmare of mere nonsense;
everybody made to have motor-horns; everybody forbidden to use
motor-horns; everybody going round in circles as something straighter
than a straight line; all the utter unreason of the mind when fronted
with a riddle that seems insoluble. By all means go on progressing, if
it amuses you; go on inventing machines for anything or everything. But
always remember that you are not only inventing machines; you are
inventing riddles.

Few people, I fancy, can feel very happy about motoring conditions in
this country of late; unless it be in the rather curious sense which
Matthew Arnold attributed to Goethe, in a very obvious imitation of

 And he was happy, if to know
 Causes of things and far below
 His feet to see the insensate flow
 Of folly and insane distress
 And headlong fate, be happiness.

The above lines embody a very exact description of the condition of
motoring on our roads during recent years. There has been plenty of
folly and headlong fate; and not a little insane distress and, what is
perhaps more terrible, entirely sane distress. But I doubt if even the
most detached could regard the contemplation of it as a condition of
happiness. Nevertheless, I confess that I have a fancy for thinking
about the causes of things; if I may presume so far to put myself in the
company of Virgil or Goethe or Matthew Arnold. For the rest, I am not a
motorist or a motor, or one specially to be described by any term
indicating rapid or frequent motion. I am not enough of a traveller to
find that traffic problem a very pressing problem; still less the
problem which is not so much the motion as the stopping of traffic. In
fact, I fear I never like the traffic quite so much as when it stands
still. In the middle of a prolonged block in the Uxbridge Road, I have
been known to exhibit a gaiety and radiant levity which has made me
loathed and detested for miles round. I always feel a faint hope, after
a few hours of it, that the vehicles may never move on at all; but may
sink slowly into the road and take on the more rooted character of a
large and prosperous village. Perhaps, after all, it is thus that our
culture may return to the stability and sanity of the earth, which is
now its only hope. I have sometimes felt inclined to get out of the car
and make a little garden just outside it, staking out a claim and
symbolically renouncing all hope of any further advance.

V About the Censor

All my life long the noise of battle rolled, chiefly between dramatic
critics and theatrical managers, about the rights and wrongs of the
Censorship of Plays; and I have no doubt the noise is still going on
over any corresponding Censorship of Films. But though there were
incessant differences between those who agreed with the Censor and those
who disagreed with him, none of the differences were so great as the
difference between two reasons for disagreeing. There were some who
seemed to hold that any artistic experiment, however anarchical or
abnormal, or manifestly and even medically insane, had a mysterious
right of its own to override any social custom or convenience, any
common-sense or ordinary civic dignity. The artistic experiment had this
right because it was an artistic experiment; not even because the art
was artistic; still less because the experiment was successful. Even the
worst play must take precedence of the best law. If the artists had
wanted to have real blood in their murders, as some other artists used
real mud on their landscapes, one can only suppose that these critics
would have agreed to sacrifice a few human lives to the thrill of
realism. If the actor-manager were working on the old lavish scale, he
might be encouraged to turn the theatre into an amphitheatre. He might
make a feature of real lions, which would be expensive; and real
Christians, who would be rare.

Anyhow, the theory of the thing seemed to be that supreme spiritual
authority in this world belongs to art, or rather, to anybody who
chooses to say that he is attempting something new in art. I was never
able to accept this highly modern and credulous conception; because I am
unable to imagine any human being accepting any authority that he has
not originally reached by reason. And I cannot conceive what reason
there could possibly be for accepting the authority of artists; not to
mention bad artists. But it was a very common attitude thirty or forty
years ago; and it covers large spaces of society still. There is a great
deal that is amusing about this arbitrary sort of artist, as well as the
more obvious joke of his art. Perhaps the funniest thing of all about
him is that he sometimes calls himself a Pagan. He is the sort of man
who might be murdered almost anywhere, even in an English Socialist
revolution; but if there is one place where he would be killed quite
instantly for defying the gods and disregarding the dignity of the
republic, it is in a city of the Pagans.

But there always was, and there still is, an exactly contrary case
against the Censor and the Censorship. It is that the rules of the
Censorship encourage anarchy, and that the worst sort of anarchy, which
is anarchy in the mind. There is an obvious example, which I mentioned
long ago, when this debate was more topical. By the old rule of
Censorship, we must not put Jesus on the stage. It would be much easier
to put Judas on the stage. It would be perfectly easy to justify Judas
on the stage. There is now no form of blasphemy or bad morals that
anybody is really forbidden to justify on the stage. A modern drama may
be one wild dance of all the devils and all the swine. It may contain
anything or anybody, except anybody who can cast out devils or destroy
swine. Generally speaking, in the whole spirit of the thing, the one
thing that the Censor can really cut out is God. He has no particular
reason to cut out Satan; and no reason at all to cut out Satanism. No
doubt the actual wielders of such powers try to soften their insane
regulations by behaving as sanely as they can. But I am not talking
about the Censor, but about the rules of the Censorship. And though they
are by this time an old example, they are still perhaps the most
distinct and disputable example of a certain moral muddle into which
this country has managed to stumble during the last half-century. One
other example is "Divorce Law Reform." One may think Divorce wrong; and
yet feel it almost worse if men cannot even do wrong without a tangle of
quibbles and lies.

Now, since the days when the Censorship quarrel existed in that form,
the whole social situation has changed. I was about to say that much
water has flowed under the bridges; but it would perhaps be truer to say
that it has flowed over the bridges and overwhelmed the world with a
flood. In those earlier days to which I have just referred, there was
any amount of the artistic revolt and riot I have just described. But
the revolt of artists was almost entirely a revolt of artists; or,
rather, of a minority of artists. There was also, as I have said, a
still smaller minority of those who rebelled, as I did, not so much
because we revered art as because we respected reason. But all the rest
of the people, that is the overwhelming majority of the people, were
still traditional in their ethics though rather vague in their religion.
Allowing for all exaggeration, we may fairly say of the new generation
that it is the ethics that are vague; except in certain cases where they
are decidedly vivid. And a real problem arises, about what we should do,
in face of such a change of proportion even in the vague moral opinion
of modern society. When I say a problem, I do not in the least mean what
is meant by a doubt. I do not mean that I have a shadow of doubt about
what we personally should do; and especially what we should not do. We
should not do as they do; any more than we should beat Jews because we
are in Prussia, or murder priests because we are in Mexico. There is no
question of doubt about what is right for us to do, or to say; it is
rather a question of what it is possible for us to prevent. Now, I think
those who hold the old view of right should stand firm, stand apart and
even realize they stand alone. They should attack. England looks much
more hopeful as a Pagan country calling for conversion than as a
Christian country calling for compromise. The roast beef of Old England
will last longer when it is salted beef. But if the salt lose its
savour, wherewith shall it be salted?

We may fall back on the historic base of modern progress, on the
fundamentals not yet formally reversed; and there is a case for it. We
might say that if six undiscovered murders this year become sixty
undiscovered murders next year, the commonwealth none the less rests on
the idea that murder is wrong. We may say that three thieves to-day and
thirty to-morrow and three hundred the day after to-morrow do not turn
us into a Communist society. On the other hand, we may admit that,
though not a Communist society, it is no longer a Christian society. And
then, if we are Christians, we can launch a crusade to convert or
conquer it. Now I think, after some sincere thought, that this latter
course is by far the better. I do not believe in ignoring the Pagan
morals all around us: it does not diminish the Paganism; and it only
deprives us of the pleasure and advantage of denouncing it as Pagan. The
assumption that tradition, and even convention, that virtue and even
Victorian virtue, is still the rule, and anything else an exception, is
all on the side of the sophists who defend vice. It is a rule by which
we carry all the unpopular emblems of power, while they enjoy all the
practical fruits of victory. They can flout us, because they profess
that there is nothing to conceal; and we cannot fight them, because we
pretend that there is nothing to fight. But, above all, from the point
of the honest orthodox, the present one-sided truce has this enormous
disadvantage: it prevents us from pointing out the one solid, staring,
stupendous fact which is before all our eyes. It is the fact that we
have not only seen a modern materialist civilization rise, but we have
seen it fall. We have seen industrial imperialism and individualism a
_practical_ failure. It is no longer a question of using the modern
machinery; but of cutting loose from the wreck of it.

VI About Shamelessness

There are some who actually like the Country dialects which State
education is systematically destroying. There are some who actually
prefer them to the Cockney dialect which State education is
systematically spreading. For that is perhaps the most practical and
successful effect of our present scheme of public instruction, that the
village children no longer talk like ignorant inhabitants of Sussex or
Suffolk; they now talk like enlightened inhabitants of Hoxton and
Houndsditch. Among the eccentric reactionaries who have actually
observed this change with regret, a further and more curious fact has
also been remarked more than once. An Anglican country parson, a friend
of mine, once told me that it was not only a loss of pronunciation, but
also of perception. "They not only can't say the word, but they can't
hear it," was the way he put it. Supposing that the virtuous vicar in
question had been so ill-advised as to teach his infant school to
recite, let us say, the "Dolores" of Swinburne--which, I admit, is not
extremely probable--their intonation would be different, but without any
intention to differ. The vicar would say, "Ringed round with a flame of
fair faces." And the Sunday School children would obediently repeat,
"Ringed rarnd with a flime of fair fices," with a solid certainty and
assurance that this was exactly what he had said. However laboriously he
might entreat them to say "faces," they would say "fices," and it would
sound to them exactly like "faces."

In short, this sort of thing is not a variation or a form of variety; on
the contrary, it is an inability to see that there is any variety. It is
not a difference in the sense of a distinction; on the contrary, it is a
sudden failure in the power to make any distinction. Whatever is
distinct may possibly be distinguished. And Burns and Barnes did manage
to be distinguished, in the particular form of distinction commonly
called dialect. But the change here in question is something much more
formless and much more formidable than anything that could arise from
the most uncouth or unlucky of local or rustic accents. It is a certain
loss of sharpness, in the ear as well as the tongue; not only a
flattening of the speech, but a deadening of the hearing. And though it
is in itself a relatively small matter, especially as compared with many
parallel matters, it is exactly this quality that makes it symbolic in
the social problems of to-day. For one of the deepest troubles of the
day is this fact: that something is being commended as a new taste which
is simply the condition which finds everything tasteless. It is
sometimes offered almost as if it were a new sense; but it is not really
even a new sensibility; it is rather a pride in new insensibility.

For instance, when some old piece of decorum is abolished, rightly or
wrongly, it is always supposed to be completely justified if people
become just as dull in accepting the indecency as they were in accepting
the decency. If it can be said that the grandchildren "soon get used" to
something that would have made the grandfathers fight duels to the
death, it is always assumed that the grandchildren have found a new mode
of living, whereas those who fought the duel to the death were already
dead. But the psychological fact is exactly the other way. The duellists
may have been fastidious or even fantastic, but they were frightfully
alive. That is why they died. Their sensibilities were vivid and
intense, by the only true test of the finer sensibilities, or even of
the five senses. And that is that they could feel the difference between
one thing and another. It is the livelier eye that can see the
difference between peacock-blue and peacock-green; it is the more
fatigued eye that may see them both as something very like grey. It is
the quicker ear that can detect in any speech the shade between
innocence and irony, or between irony and insult. It is the duller ear
that hears all the notes as monotone, and therefore monotonous. Even the
swaggering person, who was supposed to turn up his nose at everything,
was at least in a position to sniff the different smells of the world,
and perhaps to detect their difference.

There is the drearier and more detached sort of pride of the other sort
of man, who may be said to turn his nose down at everything. For that
also is only a more depressing way of turning everything down. It is not
a mark of purity of taste, but of absence of taste, to think that cocoa
is as good as claret; and in the field of morals it may well have the
ultimate Nemesis of thinking cocaine as good as cocoa. Even the mere
senses, in the merely sensual sense, attest to this truth about vivacity
going with differentiation. It is no answer, therefore, to say that you
have persuaded a whole crowd of hygienic hikers to be content with cocoa
any more than to say that you have persuaded a whole crowd of
drug-fiends to be content with cocaine. Neither of them is the better
for pursuing a course which spoils the palate, and probably robs them of
a reasonable taste in vintages. But what most modern people do not see
is that this dullness in diet, and similar things, is exactly parallel
to the dull and indifferent anarchy in manners and morals. Do not be
proud of the fact that your grandmother was shocked at something which
you are accustomed to seeing or hearing without being shocked. There are
two meanings of the word "nervous," and it is not even a physical
superiority to be actually without nerves. It may mean that your
grandmother was an extremely lively and vital animal, and that you are a

We are constantly told, for instance, by the very prosaic paralytics who
call themselves Nudists, that people "soon get used" to being degraded,
in that particular, to the habits of the beasts of the field. I have no
doubt they do; just as they soon get used to being drunkards or
drug-fiends or jail-birds or people talking Cockney instead of talking
English. Where the argument of the apologist entirely fails is in
showing that it is _better_ to get used to an inferior status after
losing a superior one. In a hundred ways, recent legislation has ridden
roughshod over the instincts of innocent and simple and yet very
sensible people. There was a feeling, strangely enough, that men and
women might not feel very comfortable when they met as total strangers
to discuss some depraved and perhaps disgusting aspect of their natural
sex relation. This has already given a good deal of quiet trouble on
juries, and we have not seen the end of the trouble yet. Now, it will be
noted that the objection to female juries never was an objection to
juries being female. There always were female juries. From the first
days of legislation a number of matrons were empanelled to decide
certain points among each other. The case against mixed juries was a
case of embarrassment; and that embarrassment is far more intelligent,
far more civilized, far more subtle, far more psychological than the
priggish brutality that disregards it. But, in any case, it will serve
here as an illustration of what I mean. The question is not whether the
embarrassment can be so far overcome somehow that a good many people can
discharge the duty somehow. The question is whether the blunting of the
sentiment really is a victory for human culture, and not rather a defeat
for human culture. Just as the question is not whether millions of
little boys, in different districts with different dialects, can all be
taught the same dialect of the Whitechapel Road, but whether that
dialect is better than others; and whether it is a good thing to lose
the sense of difference between dialects.

For what we do at least know, in the most fundamental fashion, is that
man is man by the possession of these fastidious fancies; from which the
freethinking haddock is entirely emancipated, and by which the
latitudinarian turnip is never troubled. To lose the sense of repugnance
from one thing, or regard for another, is exactly so far as it goes to
relapse into the vegetation or to return to the dust. But for about
fifty or sixty years nearly all our culture and controversial trend has
been conducted on the assumption that, as long as we could get used to
any sort of caddishness, we could be perfectly contented in being cads.
I do not say that all the results of the process have been wrong. But I
do say that the test of the process has been wrong from first to last;
for it is not a case against the citizen that a man can grow
_accustomed_ to being either a savage or a slave.

VII About Puritanism

In dealing with such things as Prohibition, I have sometimes had
occasion to mention Puritanism. Disputes have arisen about this word,
and about how far it is fair to associate it at least with a mild shade
of pessimism. Sporadic attempts are made to modify this strong popular
impression; and I saw an article the other day which largely turned upon
a statement that Calvin was allowed to play with darts. As I have not
the least desire to be unfair to Puritans, I think I should like to sum
up what seems to me the substantial historical truth of the matter, and
the real point of the whole story. So far as I am concerned, the point
is not so much against Calvin as against Calvinism; and not so much even
against Calvinism as against that much less logical Modernism which has
taught everybody in our time that religious error does not matter. It
matters very much in two ways; and Puritanism is a striking historical
example of both. First: something that might well seem to sensible
people to be only a fine shade of thought, merely theoretical and
theological, does, in fact, change the mind. It produces a mood which
does darken the world, or some particular part of the world. About the
degree of the darkness or the density of the cloud, we may well differ;
but it is a matter of common sense to see where the cloud did or does
rest. Nobody will dare to maintain that the Scottish Sabbath has not in
fact been more strict than the English Sunday, let alone the Continental
Sunday. Every one knows that it was the Puritans who objected to
Archbishop Laud's famous publication on the subject; every one knows
that they objected to his Book of Sports because it was a book of
sports; every one knows that they thought the sports too sportive.
Attempts to explain away solid outstanding historical facts of this kind
are altogether fanciful. But it does not follow that every founder of
every sect involved attached supreme importance to this particular
point; some of them did; some of them did not. The whole movement grew
gradually from various roots, but this is what it grew to be. A man
alive in the middle of the Renaissance, speculating about a system of
Presbyters which he had not yet begun to found, amid a thousand others
speculating about a thousand other things, would not, of course, become
instantly identical with a Presbyterian minister of modern times. He
would not begin on the spot to grow the black top-hat and bushy whiskers
of a Scottish elder or precentor in one of Sir James Barrie's plays or
stories. _Nemo repente fit turpissimus._ Which it would doubtless be
very unfair to translate as "No one suddenly becomes a precentor."

But there is another historical process involved. It is much more
curious, and it has been much more curiously neglected. One special form
of the harm done by the extreme sects in the seventeenth century was
this: that they really died young, and that what has infected our
culture since has not been their life, or even their death, but rather
their decay. In most cases the Puritans lost their religion and retained
their morality; a deplorable state of things for anybody. If the special
narrow theologies had not perished as rapidly as they did, the
atmospheric moral mood would not have lingered on exactly in the way it
did. But, above all, it permitted of a process which seems to me one of
the strangest and most interesting in human history, but does not seem
as yet to have been noticed by historians. It is rather like the
geological process of the formation of a fossil. Every one knows that a
fossil fish is not a fish; nor a fossil bird a bird. I do not mean
merely in the obvious sense; that we should be surprised--nay,
annoyed--in a restaurant, if we asked for a fish and they gave us a
stone. I mean that a fossil is a form in which remains no actual
fragment of a fish. It in a hollow mould or image of a fish, which is
very gradually filled up by the infiltration of something else, after
the actual fish has decayed. Thus we find the general outline of these
stony and very literal faiths filled up by something else when the old
fanaticism has decayed. There are two great modern examples of that
creepy and uncanny historical transmutation. One is what we call
Prohibition, and the other is what we call Prussianism.

The point is perhaps clearest in the case of Prohibition. The old
original Puritans were not Prohibitionists. Oliver Cromwell was a
brewer; but he was not inspired or intoxicated by beer, nor (like the
teetotallers) inspired and intoxicated by the absence of beer. Whatever
his faults, he did most certainly have a real religion, in the sense of
a creed. But it was a sombre creed, one which had been made
intentionally, more stern and ruthless than the other creeds; and this
created a new mood and moral atmosphere which ultimately spread all over
the great plains of Puritan America. Now, the point is this: that as the
creed crumbled slowly as a creed, its place was taken by something
vaguer but of the same general spirit. The sombre theological system was
replaced by a sombre social theory. You can put it another way if you
like, and say that America tolerated Prohibition; not because America
was Puritan, but because America had been Puritan. The idea of morality
that came to prevail till lately at least was in every sense a survival
of Puritanism, even if it was also in a sense a substitute for
Puritanism. That is the essential history of that curious episode; the
teetotal ethic of modern times. Prohibition was not a part of the origin
of Puritanism; none the less, Prohibition was a thing of Puritan origin.

The same is true of the religious fanaticism that filled Germany in the
Thirty Years War; as compared with the national or tribal fanaticism
that now fills Germany after the Great War. The old fanatics who
followed Gustavus Adolphus and William of Orange were not ethnologists
or evolutionists. They did not imagine that they belonged to a Nordic
Race; they most certainly did not imagine that they or theirs had ever
been bothered with a Swastika. They saluted the cross or they smashed
the cross; but it had not occurred to them to tap the four ends of it so
as to turn it into a fragment of Chinese or Red Indian decoration. They
were thinking about their own strictly religious scruples and schisms.
They were really fighting fiercely and savagely for points of doctrine;
and I should be the last to blame them for it. But those doctrines did
not last; they were the very doctrines that have now long been
dissolving in the acids of German scepticism, in the laboratories of the
Prussian professors. And the more they evaporated and left a void, the
more the void was filled up with new and boiling elements; with
tribalism, with militarism, with imperialism, and (in short) with that
very narrow type of patriotism that we call Prussianism.

Most of us would agree that this kind of patriotism is a considerable
peril to every other kind of patriotism. That is the whole evil of the
ethnological type of loyalty. Settled States can respect themselves and
also respect each other, because they can claim the right to defend
their own frontiers and yet not deny their duty to recognize other
people's frontiers. But the racial spirit is a restless spirit; it does
not go by frontiers but by the wandering of the blood. It is not so much
as if France were at war with Spain, but rather as if the Gipsies were
more or less at war with everybody. You can have a League of Nations,
but you could hardly have a League of Tribes. When the Tribe is on the
march, it is apt to forget leagues--not to mention frontiers. But my
immediate interest in this flood of tribalism is that it has since
poured into the empty hollows left by the slow drying-up of the great
Deluge of the Thirty Years War; and that all this new and naked
nationalism has come to many modern men as a substitute for their dead

VIII About Sir James Jeans

Perhaps the quaint old tradition that the village cobbler is always the
village atheist may have had something to do with the equally quaint old
proverb that the cobbler should stick to his last. _Ne sutor ultra
crepidam_ may have been a pagan proverb; but an atheist was probably as
rare among polytheists as he is among monotheists. And it seems rather
to suggest a mild complaint among customers that their favourite expert
in footwear was rather neglecting their feet in his irrelevant efforts
to influence their heads. And whereas their feet might have been shod
with the gospel of peace, by a more pious and traditional cobbler, it
was found that their heads were turned into watch-towers loud with the
tocsins and alarums of war, by the challenges of the atheistic cobbler.
It may seem at first a little hard on the cobbler to condemn him to an
eternal ritual of repeating that there is nothing like leather. But
there is a truly historic half-truth in the idea of such a limitation.
And the truth is this: that a really good cobbler might be really
interesting about leather, and still be capable of being rather a bore
about God; and still more of a bore about Godlessness. And the reason is
this: that in the trade that a man really understands he often has ideas
that are really his own; he is fresh and inventive and even (in the rare
but good sense) up to date.

Whereas, in a theoretical thing like atheism, he is almost certain to
have picked up stale ideas that are not his own; that are not even in
the vulgar sense up to date; that are generally likely to be all the
more ancient because he fancies they are modern. A true craftsman of St.
Crispin, a great and glorious cobbler in the best tradition of the
Guilds, might mean much more than we imagine in saying that there is
nothing like leather. He might be thinking that leather is not one thing
but a thousand things; that he himself had a score of schemes for the
extension and variation of its use; that the world was only at the
beginning of the vast possibilities and scientific applications of
leather. He might see in a vision, not only the forest of the fantastic
elongations of the late mediaeval shoe, but all the other historic
applications that still live in legend; from the Leather Bottel to the
complete costume of leather that was worn by the first Quaker. He might
see new shapes cut out of leather, new patterns stamped on leather, new
ways in which the use of leather might extend from hats to hangings,
curtains or carpets, as the use of lead extends from bullets to church
windows. If he had these new notions about leather, it would be largely
because he had studied leather, and not stuck behind in the first
alphabet of his craft. But as an atheist he would be an amateur, and
would probably have stuck very stupidly at the first alphabet of
atheism; asking how the God who made a fig tree grow could stop it from
growing; or whether God was not alone responsible for all a man did,
because he had made a man free to do what he liked. Anyhow, he would
probably say things we have all heard a thousand times from cosmic
theorists, and do not specially want to hear all over again from

Certainly no one would compare Sir James Jeans to an atheist; for no man
has, in fact, done more to change the tone of the most modern science
from atheism to theism. Nor would it be strictly correct, or in
accordance with the dull details of biography as given in _Who's Who,_
to describe him as a cobbler. But in one way he does raise some of the
same questions as are suggested in the two proverbs about the cobbler,
or the faintly implied speculations about the atheist. I was listening
recently to conversations which still continue about a recent lecture of
Sir James Jeans to the British Association, not to mention the echoes of
it that still rumble in the popular Press. And I was struck in both
these cases, especially in the case of the newspapers, with the much
greater space and attention given to his general peroration about
science in relation to ethics and politics and religion (about which
studies he is, after all, an amateur like the rest of us), than to the
masterly analysis of his own original ideas about matter of the
mathematics of energy, about which he is possibly the chief authority of
the age. The cosmic cobbler is listened to less respectfully when he
talks about leather, about the substance or material of which the cosmos
is made, than when he talks about the problem of unemployment or
armament, or the need of a new religion, or all the familiar topics well
within the range of the village atheist, or at least of the village
agnostic. And yet his hypothesis about matter is full of new ideas,
which are really his own; while his defence of the morality of modern
science is necessarily full of old ideas which would have been much the
same in the mouths of the scientific men of sixty years ago.

Nor, indeed, are they altogether satisfactory, and they have become
rather less so by mere repetition, in a world that has been
revolutionized in the interval. No religious person, unless he is a
religious maniac, has any particular reason to resist the advance of
physical science; least of all the physical science of the new
physicists. But since Sir James goes out of his way to counter or
contradict the evil that has accompanied the good, we may fairly point
out that the contradiction is not a refutation. The harnessing of
science to hellish engines of destruction has not grown better, because
a great deal of blood has flown under the bridges since old Huxley
idealized the social use of science. And to say that if machinery
creates unemployment it also creates new industries and new employment,
is simply to be stone blind to the staring and outstanding fact of the
hour. That fact is that, even allowing for every effort to make new
industries, unemployment has, on the balance, enormously increased. And
this particular defence of machinery is so very far from being new that
it would have sounded very much more true if it had been made (as it was
made) in the middle of the nineteenth century, during the triumph of the
Manchester manufacturers. In those Early Victorian days, it really was
much more arguable that we were putting as many men into new enterprises
as we were throwing out of old ones. To-day it is not true at all, as a
matter of the facts and even the statistics. But, anyhow, we do not go
to the most brilliant scientist of our own time to hear things that
might be excused in an Early Victorian.

Or, again, in a man of so much scientific originality, there is the same
strange staleness in the statement that we must make a modern religion
to suit modern scientific knowledge. Here he seems to forget, not only
all that has been done since the age of dogmatic materialism, but even
all that he has done himself. He seems strangely oblivious of the actual
nature of that "knowledge" which he has just been revealing in his own
lecture. For, according to his own vivid and fascinating description,
that knowledge largely consists of a sort of radiant and luminous
ignorance. The whole point of his address was that he had come to the
conclusion that something, in the very nature of our observance of
phenomena, forbids us to feel sure that it is the ultimate fact which we
observe. Whether this be true or no, it is surely not the sort of truth
of which anybody could make a religion; or on which we could build any
system of sacrifice or confidence or obedience. There was at least some
sense in Haeckel and the old materialists saying that we must fit our
moral philosophy to the facts. But why should we fit it to a
fancy-picture of the cosmos, that may have hardly any relation to the
facts? If it points to anything, it would seem to point back to the old
idea that, if we really want a religion, we must seek it with our own
reason, with our moral convictions and our conception of the metaphysics
of being. But if men could not find faith among the atoms of which they
were sure, they will hardly find it among the electrons of which they
are not sure. But my main purpose is merely to protest against the
treatment of this great man of science by the world of journalism and
gossip, which thinks him so much more important when he happens to use a
few familiar phrases from the old freethinkers than when his phraseology
is really unfamiliar and his thought is really free.

IX About Voltaire

All Christian history began with that great social occasion when Pilate
and Herod shook hands. Hitherto, as everybody knew in Society circles,
they had hardly been on speaking terms. Something led them to seek each
other's support, a vague sense of social crisis, though very little was
happening except the execution of an ordinary batch of criminals. The
two rulers were reconciled on the very day when one of these convicts
was crucified. That is what many people mean by Peace, and the
substitution of a reign of Love for one of Hatred. Whether or no there
is honour among thieves, there is always a certain social
interdependence and solidarity among murderers; and those
sixteenth-century ruffians who conspired to assassinate Rizzio or
Darnley were always very careful to put their names, and especially each
other's names, to what they called a "band," so that at the worst they
might all hang together. Many political friendships--nay, even broad
democratic comradeships, are of this nature; and their representatives
are really distressed when we decline to identify this form of Love with
the original mystical idea of Charity.

It sometimes seems to me that history is dominated and determined by
these evil friendships. As all Christian history begins with the happy
reconciliation of Herod and Pilate, so all modern history, in the recent
revolutionary sense, begins with that strange friendship which ended in
a quarrel, as the first quarrel had ended in a friendship. I mean that
the two elements of destruction, which make the modern world more and
more incalculable, were loosened with the light of that forgotten day
when a lean French gentleman in a large wig, by name M. Arouet,
travelled north with much annoyance to find the palace of a Prussian
King far away in the freezing Baltic plain. The strict title of the King
in dynastic chronicles is Frederick the Second, but he is better known
as Frederick the Great. The actual name of the Frenchman was Arouet, but
he is better known as Voltaire. The meeting of these two men, in the
mid-winter of eighteenth-century scepticism and secularism, is a sort of
spiritual marriage which brought forth the modern world; _monstrum
horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum._ But because that birth
was monstrous and evil, and because true friendship and love are not
evil, it did not come into the world to create one united thing, but two
conflicting things, which, between them, were to shake the world to
pieces. From Voltaire the Latins were to learn a raging scepticism. From
Frederick the Teutons were to learn a raging pride.

We may note at the start that neither of them cared very much about his
own country or traditions. Frederick was a German who refused even to
learn German. Voltaire was a Frenchman who wrote a foul lampoon about
Joan of Arc. They were cosmopolitans; they were not in any sense
patriots. But there is this difference; that the patriot does, however
stupidly, like the country: whereas the cosmopolitan does not in the
least like the cosmos. They neither of them pretended to like anything
very much. Voltaire was the more really humane of the two; but Frederick
also could talk on occasion the cold humanitarianism that was the cant
of his age. But Voltaire, even at his best, really began that modern
mood that has blighted all the humanitarianism he honestly supported. He
started the horrible habit of helping human beings only through pitying
them, and never through respecting them. Through him the oppression of
the poor became a sort of cruelty to animals, and the loss of all that
mystical sense that to wrong the image of God is to insult the
ambassador of a King.

Nevertheless, I believe that Voltaire had a heart; I think that
Frederick was most heartless when he was most humane. Anyhow, these two
great sceptics met on the level, on the dead solid plain, as dull as the
Baltic Plain; on the basis that there is no God, or no God who is
concerned with men any more than with mites in cheese. On this basis
they agreed; on this basis they disagreed; their quarrel was personal
and trivial, but it ended by launching two European forces against each
other, both rooted in the same unbelief. Voltaire said in effect: "I
will show you that the sneers of a sceptic can produce a Revolution and
a Republic and everywhere the overthrowing of thrones." And Frederick
answered: "And I will show you that this same sneering scepticism can be
used as easily to resist Reform, let alone Revolution; that scepticism
can be the basis of support for the most tyrannical of thrones, for the
bare brute domination of a master over his slaves." So they said
farewell, and have since been sundered by two centuries of war; they
said farewell, but presumably did not say "adieu."

Of every such evil seed it may be noted that the seed is different from
the flower, and the flower from the fruit. A demon of distortion always
twists it even out of its own unnatural nature. It may turn into almost
anything, except anything really good. It is, to use the playful term of
affection which Professor Freud applies to his baby, "a polymorphous
pervert." These things not only do not produce the special good they
promise; they do not produce even the special evil they threaten. The
Voltairean revolt promised to produce, and even began to produce, the
rise of mobs and overthrow of thrones; but it was not the final form of
scepticism. The actual effect of what we call democracy has been the
disappearance of the mob. We might say there were mobs at the beginning
of the Revolution and no mobs at the end of it. That Voltairean
influence has not ended in the rule of mobs, but in the rule of secret
societies. It has falsified politics throughout the Latin world, till
the recent Italian Counter-Revolution. Voltaire has produced
hypocritical and pompous professional politicians, at whom he would have
been the first to jeer. But on his side, as I have said, there does
linger a certain humane and civilized sentiment which is not unreal.
Only it is right to remember what has really gone wrong on his side of
the Continental quarrel when we are recording the much wilder and
wickeder wrong on the other side of it.

For the evil spirit of Frederick the Great has produced, not only all
other evils, but what might seem the very opposite evil. He who
worshipped nothing has become a god who is quite blindly worshipped. He
who cared nothing for Germany has become the battle-cry of madmen who
care for nothing except Germany. He who was a cold cosmopolitan has
heated seven times a hell of narrow national and tribal fury which at
this moment menaces mankind with a war that may be the end of the world.
But the root of both perversions is in the common ground of atheist
irresponsibility; there was nothing to stop the sceptic from turning
democracy into secrecy; there was nothing to stop him interpreting
liberty as the infinite licence of tyranny. The spiritual zero of
Christendom was at that freezing instant when those two dry, thin,
hatchet-faced men looked in each other's hollow eyes and saw the sneer
that was as eternal as the smile of a skull. Between them, they have
nearly killed the thing by which we live.

These two points of peril or centres of unrest, the intellectual unrest
of the Latins and the very unintellectual unrest of the Teutons, do
doubtless both contribute to the instability of international relations,
and threaten us all the more because they threaten each other. But when
we have made every allowance for there being, in that sense, dangers on
both sides, the main modern fact emerges that the danger is mostly on
one side, and that we have long been taught to look for it only on the
other side. Much of Western opinion, especially English and American,
has been trained to have a vague horror of Voltaire, often combined with
a still vaguer respect for Frederick. No Wesleyans are likely to confuse
Wesley with Voltaire. No Primitive Methodist is under the impression
that Voltaire was a Primitive Methodist. But many such Protestant
ministers really were under the impression that Frederick the Great was
a Protestant Hero. None of them realized that Frederick was the greater
atheist of the two. None of them certainly foresaw that Frederick, in
the long run, would turn out to be the greater anarchist of the two. In
short, nobody foresaw what everybody afterwards saw: the French Republic
becoming a conservative force, and the Prussian Kingdom a purely
destructive and lawless force. Victorians like Carlyle actually talked
about pious Prussia, as if Blucher had been a saint or Moltke a mystic.
General Goring may be trusted to teach us better, till we learn at last
that nothing is so anarchical as discipline divorced from authority;
that is, from right.

X About Beliefs

Some time ago, when a stir was made by a rather striking book called
_Who Moved the Stone?_ which might almost be described, with all
reverence, as a divine detective story and almost a theological
thriller, a pugnacious little paper in Fleet Street made a remark which
has always hovered in my memory as more mysterious than any mystery
story in the world. The writer said that any man who believes in the
Resurrection is bound to believe also in the story of Aladdin in the
_Arabian Nights._ I have no idea what he meant. Nor, I imagine, had he.
But this curious conjunction of ideas recurs to my mind in connexion
with a rather interesting suggestion made by Mr. Christopher Dawson
about what we may call the History of Science. On the face of it, the
remark I have quoted from the pugnacious paper seems to have no quality
whatever except pugnacity. There is no sort of logical connexion between
believing in one marvellous event and believing in another, even if they
were exactly alike and not utterly different. If I believe that Captain
Peary reached the North Pole, I am not therefore bound to believe that
Dr. Cook also reached the North Pole, even if they both arrived with
sledges and dogs out of the same snows. It is a fallacy, therefore, even
where the two things are close enough to be compared. But the comparison
between the Gospel miracle and the Arabian fairy-tale is about the most
unfortunate comparison in the world. For in the one case there is a
plain and particular reason for thinking the thing true, or at least
meant to be true. And in the other case there is a plain and particular
reason for realizing that the tale is not only untrue, but is not even
meant to be true.

The historical case for the Resurrection is that everybody else, except
the Apostles, had every possible motive to declare what they had done
with the body, if anything had been done with it. The Apostles might
have hidden it in order to announce a sham miracle, but it is very
difficult to imagine men being tortured and killed for the truth of a
miracle which they knew to be a sham. In the case of the Apostles'
testimony, the general circumstances suggest that it is true. In the
case of the Arabian tale, the general circumstances avow and proclaim
that it is false. For we are told in the book itself that all the
stories were told by a woman merely to amuse the king and distract his
attention from the idea of cutting off her head. A romancer in this
personal situation is not very likely to confine herself strictly to
humdrum accuracy, and it would be impossible more plainly to warn the
reader that all the tales are taradiddles. In the one case, then, we
have witnesses who not only think the thing true, but do veritably think
it is as true as death, or truer than death. They therefore prefer death
to the denial of its truth. In the other case we have a story-teller
who, in trying to avoid death, has every motive to tell lies. If St.
John the Baptist had wished to avoid being beheaded, and had saved his
life by inventing a long string of Messianic or Early Christian legends
on the spur of the moment, in order to hold the attention of King Herod,
I should not regard any "resurrection myth" he might tell as a strong
historical argument for the Resurrection. But, as the Apostles were
killed as St. John was killed, I think their evidence cannot be
identified by sound scholarship as a portion of the Arabian Nights.

I merely pause for a moment upon this wild and preposterous parallel as
a passing example of the queer way in which sceptics now refuse to
follow an argument and only follow a sort of association or analogy. But
the real reason for recalling this strange remark about the Arabian
Nights is to be found in a much more genuine analogy between Western
Science and Eastern Sorcery. Nobody but a lunatic would look either for
his facts or his faith in the Arabian Nights. But, oddly enough, there
really was a touch of the Arabian magicians in the Arabian
mathematicians. There really was a faint flavour of the Oriental
wizardry about the quite genuine Oriental wisdom; even when that wisdom
was really doing work for which the world will always be grateful, in
geometry or chemistry, in mathematics or medicine. Thus we find the
paradox: that a man might, after all, look for some of the elements of
science in the Arabian Nights, though he would hardly look there for
anything very edifying or elevating in the way of the elements of
religion. In short, the old dim, or even dark, connexion between
Medicine and Magic has a sort of hidden meaning of great historical
interest. It is developed by Mr. Dawson in an essay on the Eastern
element in early mediaeval science, and occurs in a book of essays
called _Mediaeval Religion._

But this particular point is not concerned with religion, but is
connected in a curious way with science. The point is this: that Magic
(in the ancient sense) and Medicine (in the modern sense) are really in
one way very like each other, because they are both very unlike the pure
and abstract idea of Science as conceived by the Ancient Greeks. Science
only means knowledge; and for those ancients it did only mean knowledge.
They wanted nothing but the pleasure of knowing; they were particularly
proud of knowing a great deal of utterly useless knowledge. Thus the
favourite science of the Greeks was Astronomy, because it was as
abstract as Algebra. And when the Philistine among them said: "What are
the Pleiades to me?" the Philosopher really answered the Philistine by
saying: "They are all the more to me because they are nothing to me." We
may say that the great Greek ideal was to have no use for useful things.
The Slave was he who learned useful things; the Freeman was he who
learned useless things. This still remains the ideal of many noble men
of science, in the sense that they do desire truth as the great Greeks
desired it; and their attitude is an eternal protest against the
vulgarity of utilitarianism. But there was and is another side of
science, also to be respected, which was from the first represented by
things like Medicine. And if there were some association of Medicine
with Magic, it was because Magic was always extremely _practical._

The modern Magician, often a most respectable gentleman, may have
altered his opinion that sticking pins in the wax image of a politician
would be a practical act of social utility. But so the modern
Medicine-Man may have altered his opinion that the blood of badgers
mixed with wine and salt is always an immediate cure for rheumatism. But
there is nothing in this change of opinion on the mere fact or details
that differs from any other modern change in medical method, as in
curing consumption first by shutting all the windows and then by opening
all the windows. The point is that both types of Medicine-Man were
employed by people who wanted something prompt and practical, such as
killing politicians or curing rheumatism. And the note of this sort of
science, which Mr. Dawson traces to the East, is that it always boasts
of possessing Power, as distinct from the other sort set upon enjoying
Truth. We have most of us met the kind of theosophical mystic who is
always whispering that he can show us the Path to Power; that if we will
only say "I am Wisdom; I am Power" seventy-seven times before the
looking-glass we shall control the cosmos. There was some such note even
in mediaeval medicine. Mediaeval science was really more practical than
Pagan science, but sometimes it did really sound a little too practical
to be quite wholesome. So some modern hygienic idealists are rather more
concerned about health than is quite healthy. It is hard to dwell
perpetually on this element of power without poisoning it with some
element of pride. So, queerly enough, Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp
really has some remote relation with the miracles of science, though
hardly any with the miracles of religion.

XI About Modern Girls

The present position of the Bright Young Thing, or Brilliant Young Cynic
of a hard and realistic epoch, is so heartrendingly sad and pitiable
that aged sentimentalists can only gaze at it through floods of senile
tears. The cynics themselves, of course, do not believe in sentiment,
but they embody a most poignant example of pathos. No orphan child,
sprinkled with stage snow in a Victorian melodrama, was ever more
obviously out in the cold; no Mariana in a moated grange, or highborn
maiden in a palace tower, had ever so conspicuously got left.

The stages of the strange and tragic story are worthy of some sort of
simple summary. To begin with, the modern cynic was in the position of a
man whose father has quarrelled with his grandfather; and who is himself
filled with a pious and filial yearning to quarrel with them both. The
yearning is indeed pious in the sense of traditional, in so far as this
family quarrel seems to be a tradition in the family. But for him the
practical problem is the double problem of quarrelling with them both.
And it is not easy to quarrel with them both. If in wandering about the
moated grange or the ancestral garden, he is struck with horror at the
sight of some feature recalling the peculiar tastes of his grandfather
in his Classical or his Pre-Raphaelite period, he may perhaps break out
into curses against his ancestor, and express his disagreement with his
grandfather in the most disagreeable language he can command. And just
as he is beginning to enjoy himself, he will realize with a shock that
he is in the shameful and unnatural position of agreeing with his
father. In a desperate attempt to balance this, he will fall back on the
more natural and genial occupation of recalling in detail all the more
repulsive vices and follies of his own father. And then he will realize
abruptly that he is only repeating the catalogue of curses and crimes
once uttered by the more quavering voice of his aged grandfather.

This curious tragicomedy is always being re-enacted, especially in
recent times, when any debate turns on philosophy as displayed in
history. Thus, the young man who associated himself with the famous
Pacifist vote at Oxford will, of course, affirm the ideal of
Internationalism, and treat Nationalism as a prehistoric superstition
handed down from anthropoid ages. He may often be heard saying that arms
and armaments (two rather different things) are a relic of mediaevalism,
and that an internationalist of the twentieth century cannot be expected
to go back to the Middle Ages. And then, perhaps, some friend of his who
happens to know something about history will point out to him that going
forward to Internationalism is going back to the Middle Ages. For the
very deep chasms that now divide the different nations only appeared
like cracks when the mediaeval system broke up. It is absurd to class
modern armaments with mediaeval armaments, for gunpowder even did more
to destroy the mediaeval system than to preserve it. And the indignant
intellectual cannot make up his mind whether to admire gunpowder because
it was a scientific discovery or to deplore gunpowder because it is a
patriotic weapon. He is dizzy with the effort to keep at an equal
distance from his thirteenth-century grandfather and his
seventeenth-century father. We see a compact case of this contradiction
in the rather morbid talk that may be heard here and there in connexion
with what is called "the next war." Oddly enough, it is the same people
who always teach us, in their Outlines of History and Encyclopaedias of
Everything, that everything is always getting better and better, and
that even our most miserable contemporaries are more happy than their
fathers--it is these same people who always tell us that one slip in
modern diplomacy, or one falsehood in modern journalism, may precipitate
a towering and toppling horror of torture and panic far worse than
anything the world has ever known before. It might well be asked, with a
certain abstract curiosity, why our civilization must produce the very
worst in the way of war, if it must produce the very best in the way of
everything else.

I found another example of this strange parable of son, father, and
grandfather in a book I happen to have read on a totally different
subject. It is by Mr. Don Marquis, the eminent American writer, and
contains many quaint and amusing ideas; though it rather tends to get
into the rut of that sort of ridicule, by way of flippancies about
Jehovah and Satan and saints and angels, which was rather funnier when
it began in Voltaire than when it ended in Mark Twain. But what
interests me about the book is this: that, while it resembles Mr. Shaw's
_Black Girl in Search of God_ in this sort of professional profanity,
the writer is much more in earnest, and, therefore, much more lively and
amusing, in emphasizing another idea, which has also been adumbrated by
Mr. Shaw. I mean all that notion of Woman the Huntress, with terrified
males fleeing before her nets and darts, or reluctant captives of her
bow and spear. All of which is supposed to sound very modern, though in
itself it is rather anti-feminist than anti-clerical. But I do not
suppose it ever occurred to the anti-clerical author that this is
exactly the attitude for which the world has reproached the more
fanatical sort of clerics. It was precisely this "modern" view of Woman
that really was expressed, and often exaggerated, by the first hermits
fleeing into the desert, or the most fanatical monks only too near the
borderline of the madness of the Manichees. To regard Woman wildly as an
Unholy Terror, instead of rightly as a Holy Terror, was the abuse of
asceticism; but it seems to have become quite useful and usual in

Here, again, the brilliant modern is bringing in as modernity something
that was rather like one of the antics of antiquity; he is rushing back
to his ascetical grandfather to escape from his romantic father. And the
confusion in both cases is due to the same pathetic quality in his whole
position. He is staggering about from century to century, because he has
no real standing-ground of his own; and he has no standing-ground
because he has destroyed anything on which he could stand. Modern youth
has been blamed for bringing in a fashion of negro dances; but the one
nigger antic I really regret is the dance which was once called "The
Breakdown," which breaks down the dancing-floor and ends with the
disappearance of the dancer and the dance. The objection to all this
merely destructive thought is that eventually such destruction is
self-destruction. The game of "breaking up the happy home," even when it
is, really a bright and breezy pastime, is necessarily a brief pastime;
and in the end it is the players who come out of the ruins, houseless
and homeless, to become broken men. That is why the first thing to be
felt for them is a profound and genuine pity; a pity that is not in the
least an ironic term for patronage. As we should be genuinely sorry for
tramps and paupers who are materially homeless, so we should be sorry
for those who are morally homeless, and who suffer a philosophical
starvation as deadly as physical starvation. Not only is it true that
some of the most modern philosophers are only trying to prove that we
cannot have a philosophy; it is even more true that the most modern
among the physical scientists are only trying to prove that science is
not physical. It would be even truer to say that some of them are trying
to prove that science is not science. For science is only an old word
for knowledge; and knowledge is exactly what some of the new scientists
say we can never obtain. All this, right or wrong, has left that
generation in an unprecedented degree unprepared with any axioms on
which to act, or any tests on which it could really rely. And it is
especially awkward, when the young man who has never learned anything
except how to hate his own father and grandfather, is suddenly called
upon to love all men like brothers.

XII About Poetry

There was printed recently a very reasonable and well-poised criticism
on the subject of Modern Poetry. Perhaps it took some examples of Modern
Poetry a little more seriously than I can manage to do; for the Moderns,
who talk about irresistible temptations to love, do not always realize
that they themselves torture us with irresistible temptations to
laughter. But, on the whole, the critic justified himself in preserving
his gravity; keeping a straight face (as the Chinese would say) in the
presence of some extracts of a gravity-removing nature. He did not
merely despise the past; he justified the present by appeals to the
past. His thesis was broadly this: that when the particular inspiration
of a poetical period is exhausted, those who begin the next period are
almost bound to begin it with very bare and even bald forms of
expression. He based a plausible argument on the case of Wordsworth,
pointing out that the poet's first attempts to find a more natural style
appeared as a very naked style--or lack of style. If we accept the
assumption that it was no longer possible for a man to write in the
style of Dryden, even if "he had the mind," it is certainly true in that
case that a more direct and unadorned manner appeared very crude and

It did strike Wordsworth's most cultured contemporaries as being not so
much the appearance of a manner as the disappearance of manners.
Wordsworth's new ballads were far less classical than the old ballads.
Lines like "The more did his thick ankles swell" had not the natural
dignity that belonged to most verses in "Chevy Chase" or "Sir Patrick
Spens." It did seem like a change from natural dignity to natural
indignity. And it is quite true, as the critic suggested, that this is
very much the impression produced upon people of a more traditional
culture by the ugliness of some modern verse. But it is perhaps an
exaggeration to make Wordsworth a father and founder of the whole
Romantic Movement, seeing that his friend Coleridge wrote a real old
ballad in "The Ancient Mariner," with only one line "for which he was
indebted to Mr. Wordsworth"; and seeing that Burns had already written
and Byron was not far behind. And it marks something misleading in such
sweeping classifications as "the Romantic School" that we have to class
the jewelled casements of Keats with the blank and almost dead daylight
of the first Lyrical Ballads. In short, the argument involves an
ingenious suggestion, which in some aspects is really suggestive. But it
is rather a gloomy and blasting prophecy to say that anybody who is to
renew the life of English poetry must of necessity begin with writing
such abominably bad poetry as some of the first poems of Wordsworth.

But another doubt stirred within me, after reading all such scientific
analysis about the exhaustion of classic poetry in the eighteenth
century, or of romantic poetry in the nineteenth century. My own early
education, such as it was, dates from the very end of the nineteenth
century; and it was a period in which people talked a great deal about
religious doubt. Religious doubt produced a good deal of doubtful
religion. We are now in a time when the world is more definitely divided
into denials and affirmations, and is no longer merely enjoying its
doubts. But I, for one, have found that one advantage of a man ceasing
to doubt about religion is that he is much more free to doubt about
everything else. All the nineteenth-century sceptics about the other
world were dupes about this world. They accepted everything that was
fashionable as if it were final; and the revolutionary romantics, who
thought they would see the end of religion, never thought they would see
the end of romance. Hence they encouraged this excessive habit of
setting one style or school against another, and treated the victory of
romanticism over classicism as the final victory of light over darkness.
When there came in turn a victory of realism over romanticism, no people
were more perplexed and irritated at the new revolution than the old
revolutionists. Between them, it seems to me, they made far too much of
all this grouping of literature under labels; and as they made too much
of the label of Classical Poetry, and the label of Romantic Poetry, so
they are now making far too much of the label of Modern Poetry.

What the world wants, what the world is waiting for, is not Modern
Poetry or Classical Poetry or Neo-Classical Poetry--but Good Poetry. And
the dreadful disreputable doubt, which stirs in my own sceptical mind,
is a doubt about whether it would really matter much what style a poet
chose to write in, in any period, so long as he wrote Good Poetry.
Criticisms like that which I am criticizing always abound in phrases
like "We can no longer use the romantic form," or "The atmosphere of the
age forbids us to appeal to the eighteenth-century tradition," or
"Modern poets, being forced to avoid the Pre-Raphaelite appeal," and so
on. Now it is certainly true that we cannot write like Keats or
Rossetti; at least I cannot, and it is just barely possible that you
cannot. But the diabolical doubt still haunts me, about whether we would
not if we could. Suppose a man were to produce, let us say, an
imaginative fragment that was really as good as "Kubla Khan," and more
or less in the same diction as "Kubla Khan"--is it really true that we
should not admire it? Is it not even probable, on the whole, that he
would admire it? Would he really say to himself: "Well, I have written
these lines that seem haunting and resounding; I have created these
images that seem magnetic and full of beckoning significance; I have
composed something that would have made me as great as Coleridge, if I
had lived in the time of Coleridge. But, of course, I shall instantly
put it on the fire, because it is not obviously dated 1936-7. I should
not dream of publishing it, because the atmosphere of the age forbids me
to write good poetry in that particular manner. It is my duty to leave
off, and begin to write bad poetry, in the hope that it may evolve into
a real twentieth-century style"?

I am sorry, but the doubt still hagrides me about whether any human
being would actually behave like that. Suppose somebody did write
something that was melodious in the manner of "The Garden of
Proserpine," or moving in the manner of "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," or
even pictorial in the manner of "The Lady of Shalott," would he really
drop all his dreams and be deaf to all his voices, for fear somebody
should call him a Pre-Raphaelite? I have a dark and horrid suspicion
that most modern poets have not resisted any such temptations, because
they have not had any such inspirations. But if the inspirations were
real inspirations of their kind, or of any kind, would anybody who loves
poetry care a curse about whether the modern poets were being
sufficiently modern?

Note that I am not saying for a moment that new writers must not try new
styles. I am resisting the veto that they must not try old styles. I am
questioning this incessantly repeated suggestion, that certain
particular images or cadences or conceptions have become impossible to
any literary man, because he has the misfortune to live at this
particular moment by the clock. It seems to me to exaggerate our slavery
to a season or a fashion, and to be a part of that sullen fatalism which
may certainly be found in much modern poetry, but which is not poetical,
but only modern. It is an irony that those who would most isolate art,
in the manner that used to be called art for art's sake, are generally
those who are most soaked and stagnantly drugged by the philosophy of
their time. After all, "Lucy Gray" is not better than "Lycidas" even
now; and I suspect some classic lines by Binyon or Belloc will last till
they are no longer old. What about the new verses when they are no
longer new?

XIII About Blondes

Presented in very large letters on the leader page of a leading daily
paper, I find the statement that "the problem that besets the most
limpid of all America's blonde actresses . . . is too many riches."
Gazing at this announcement, I fell into a trance of reflection, like
those in which many modern writers have seen visions of the future. But
I was only wondering in a vague way what an average society, supposing
it to be restored to an average sanity, would really make of a sentence
like that--if it were preserved like a papyrus or a hieroglyphic in some
museum of the future. It is true, and our remote descendants might from
other sources have discovered it to be true, that Americans in the
nineteenth and even twentieth century have had a curious passion for
competitions. Nothing is more popular as a topic in the transatlantic
Press than the action of somebody who has been insane enough to select
the Six Best Songs or the Seven Best Sonnets or the Ten Best Tales of
True Romance. In some moral matters Americans have a real enthusiasm for
equality; and their democratic instincts are very deep and will not
easily be uprooted, even in these undemocratic days. But in other
intellectual matters, perhaps because they really care less about
intellectual matters, they may be said to have a passion for inequality.
That is, they have a passion for classification; and they treat it as a
sort of prodigiously and portentously solemn sport. Some complain that
their sport is not sporting. I would not go so far; but I think it is
even truer of them than of us that their sport is not sportive.
Therefore they enter with excitement upon these scientific sports, which
are supposed to deal with statistics and averages, but draw their inner
life from an intense love of comparison and competition. All these
scientific judgments are really modelled on the simple artistic
judgment, which I once heard from a most charming American amid the
landscape of the Alps: "Well, I can't see, when you've seen the highest
mountain in Switzerland, what you want to see any more for." In his view
the various Alpine peaks had run a sort of race, and the peak that
reached the highest point was superior in that and every other respect.
When we really understand that, we can sympathize with pie-eating
contests or men sitting for weeks on end in a tree--or even with less
intelligent enterprises, like committees for Eugenic legislation or
Intelligence Tests designed to discover whether immigrants from the
countries of Dante or Copernicus are or are not human beings.

So far all is clear; or shall we say limpid? This appetite for
competition and comparison is a national characteristic like any other;
sometimes inspiriting, sometimes amusing; we can sympathize with it, and
our posterity might in some degree sympathize with it. So long as it
measures the height of foreign mountains or the contour of foreigners'
skulls, it is at least measuring things that are measurable. And there
is a good deal of innocent fun in it, even when it is applied where it
is obviously inapplicable; to measure things that are in their nature
immeasurable. It might be quite amusing to capture every wandering
Pegasus, ridden by every lonely poet, and organize them all with weights
and handicaps as a horse-race. It might be entertaining to record that
the sea-shanty of The Drunken Sailor has closed in a dead heat with the
_Dies Irae,_ or that "Sally in Our Alley" has beaten "I'll Sing Thee
Songs of Araby" by a length and a half. I have no very clear idea what
it means, but those who organize it certainly mean no harm. Also, to do
them justice, they are generally thinking about things that are to some
extent practical and real; such as popularity or power of emotional
effectiveness on particular occasions; sometimes, I fear, they are
thinking about things still more practical, such as money. Up to a
point, I am willing to be excited when they discuss what is the most
popular song or the most beautiful woman; though I never saw the picture
of a prizewinner in any Beauty Competition without thinking that I knew
several better-looking women living in my own street. I should therefore
accept, with a slight sigh, the statement that somebody was the most
beautiful of all America's blonde actresses. But surely it is by some
more curious convolutions of thought that anybody can reach so firm and
fixed a belief that she is "the most limpid of all America's blonde

It seems to be assumed that all America's blonde actresses are engaged
in a fierce competition for limpidity--whatever that may be. Not without
bitter rivalries and breathless jealousies has the peculiar palm been
won. Challenges have been issued to the multitudinous towns and villages
of the vast prairies and the wide, open spaces where blondes are
blondes. Indignant families have declared that our Sadie is as limpid as
any of these dames down east; and Clytie has told her sisters that she
means to be just as limpid as she knows how. The cry of "Limpid is my
middle name" has resounded from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and
numberless aspirants have assured themselves that they are just too
limpid to live--before this tremendous trial of strength was decided.
Possibly its echoes may have been heard even in foreign lands, and
inspired the blondes of other races; except, I presume, the negro race,
among whom blondes are said to be comparatively rare. The French
soldier, sinking to repose to the charming tune of "Aupres de ma blonde
qui fait bon dormi," may rouse himself with a start of suspicion and
hiss the fatal question: "But is she limpid?" The German Hitlerite, now
prostrate in worship of the Blonde Beast, which is his version of the
Blonde Beauty, may wonder for a moment whether it is wholly, utterly,
and completely limpid; which, to judge by the new German ideals as
explained in the old German literary style, it is not. But in that
respect the most obscure German diction is not much more bewildering
than our own journalistic diction. What are we to say about that
indescribable sort of newspaper writing to be noted in the example I
have given? What in the world does all this sort of thing mean; and what
are the vague and vast implications behind it? Why is the writer so
frightfully certain that the lady is the most limpid of all American
blondes, and what precisely does he mean by the epithet? The present age
may be producing the most limpid blondes, but hardly the most limpid

The truth is that the sort of journalism which now specially professes
to be fresh, up to date, on the spot, and as new as the latest news, is,
in a very peculiar sense, a residuum of stale things out of the past; an
accumulation of antiquated associations of which the very origin is
lost, and more like the end of everything than the beginning of
anything. It is always using terms that have grown colourless through
oblivion of their original context, which are now used rather with a
hazy appreciation of their sound than a logical appreciation of their
sense. I have called it indescribable; and it is really very difficult
to describe. It goes far beyond what was once condemned as journalese,
in the sense of being jaunty and even vulgar. It is a sort of jargon
drawn from all sorts of languages, some of them aesthetic or scientific
in origin; all these scraps of culture are now loose in the world; but,
though everything is loose, nothing is lost, except the tradition of how
to treat them reasonably. We have turned scientific language into a sort
of slang; the sort of slang that is used to save trouble. Anybody can
talk about problems and nobody need bother about solutions; anybody is
free to talk about a complex so long as he can ignore its complexity;
anybody can borrow a word from the studios or the workshops, so long as
he does not pay it back by making any study or doing any work.

Some people seem ready to call this limpid; but I should be inclined to
call it limp. The increasing inconclusiveness of most articles in the
Press and elsewhere seems to me the most disquieting mark of our mental
development. It is not found only in sentimental and sensational
headlines, such as that I have quoted; indeed, the end of such an
article is even more limp than the beginning. We may yet live to regret
the passing of the political party slanging-match or the mere newspaper
sensation. They were at least limpid.

XIV About S.T.C.

At this time many are writing about Coleridge; and there is no writer
about whom it is so difficult to write. Coleridge was a remarkable man
in many departments, about which writing would not be so difficult; the
difficulty is in dealing with the department in which he did certain
things, a very few things, that make it essential to write about him at
all. He was and he achieved many things that could be criticized with
some fruitfulness and profit. He was a transcendental theorist who came
to be of some importance as a theologian; and he is the fountain of some
very fine thinking among the liberal theologians of the old school, like
Maurice and Robertson. He was a figure of some political and historical
interest, since he began with an enthusiasm for the French Revolution
and ended with an enthusiasm for the German metaphysics; and, of the two
great catastrophes, I personally prefer the first. He was a great
Character; one of those men of whom numberless anecdotes are told,
chiefly to the effect that his conversation was fascinating and
continuous; some found it too fascinating; some even found it too
continuous. There is the famous story of the man whom Coleridge
buttonholed in the street and proceeded to talk to about Plato at some
length; whereupon the man, having an appointment, delicately and
tactfully cut off the button and went about his business. Returning
later by the same street, he saw Coleridge still holding the button and
still talking about Plato. He wrote a number of minor works, generally
dismissed in the discussion of his genius, which are decidedly clever
and ought not to be dismissed so easily. For instance, in the days of
his French Revolutionary enthusiasm, he wrote a satiric poem against
Pitt, which I still think very fine; but partly perhaps because I am all
in favour of people writing satiric poems against Pitt. This poem, as
everybody knows, is a masque of Fire, Famine and Slaughter; in which
these plagues of mankind attribute their power to Pitt, but two of them
eventually turn upon him. Fire, however, amiably observes:

I alone am faithful; I Cling to him everlastingly.

There is no liberal theology about that.

I repeat, therefore, that there are many things about him that could be
profitably criticized. Unfortunately, there are one or two things that
cannot be criticized. They can only be quoted. Nor have I any intention
of filling up the blanks of this essay by quoting them. But the point
about Coleridge is that the peaks of his imagination, though few and
rare, are absolutely above criticism. They live by that mysterious life
of the imagination, which is something much more terrible than an
anarchy. For it has laws of its own which man has never been able to
turn into a code. But anybody who understands poetry knows when poetry
has fulfilled those laws; as certainly as a mathematician knows when a
mathematical calculation is correct. Only, the mathematician can
explain, more or less, why the answer is exactly right; and the lover of
poetry can never explain why the word or the image is exactly right. It
is obvious, on the face of it, that "Kubla Khan" is a piece of pure
nonsense. There is no earthly connexion--we might perhaps accentuate the
phrase no _earthly_ connexion--between the architectural tastes of Kubla
and the misfortunes of a lady who was wailing for her demon lover; and
still less connexion between this tragedy and the rejoicings round a
gentleman who on honey-dew had fed and drunk the milk of paradise. Yet
any mind moving by the laws of the imagination knows that all these
three things are one thing, and the poem is one poem. The poet is riding
the air on the imagination alone; and his Pegasus has wings and no feet.
But almost all that has been attempted, in the way of analysing those
imaginative laws, has been done by some metaphysician, who has feet and
no wings.

It seems to me that the central genius of a man like Coleridge is not a
thing to be dealt with by critics at all. If they really had anything
worth saying about such a poet, they would write it in poetry. It is the
curse upon all critics that they must write in prose. It is the
specially blighting and blasting curse upon some of them, that they have
to write in philosophical or psychological or generally analytical
prose. I have never read a page of such criticism, however clear and
clever, which brought me the most remote echo of the actual sound of the
poetry or the power of poetical images, which are like magic talismans.
Therefore, in writing about a man like Coleridge, we are driven back
upon secondary things; upon his second best work, or upon the second- or
third-rate controversies aroused by that work. In that sense, of course,
there are any number of second-rate things to be said of Coleridge. It
is suggested, for instance, that the abnormal or enormous enlargement of
his imagination was due to a dirty habit he had of taking opium. I will
confess that I am sceptical about the divinity of the drug; or the power
of any drug to act like a god, and make a man other than he really is. I
will merely suggest that if exactly the same quantity of opium had been
given to a number of Coleridge's contemporaries--let us say to George
the Third, to Mr. Bentham, to the Duke of Wellington, to Mr. Gifford, to
Beau Brummel or to William Pitt himself, not to mention Mr. Perceval--I
gravely doubt whether any or all of these persons together would have
produced a line of "Kubla Khan." It was a pity that Coleridge took
opium; because it dissolved his great intellect in dreams, when he was
perhaps more fitted than most men of his time to have made some
structural logical system, that should have reconciled Revolution and
Religion. But "Christabel" and "The Ancient Mariner" were written by Mr.
Coleridge and not by Mr. Opium. The drug may have accelerated or made
easy a work which some weaknesses in his moral character might have made
him avoid or delay, because they were laborious; but there is nothing
creative about a narcotic. The point is perhaps worthy of remark; for
nobody who knows the nineteenth-century literature can fail to notice
that there was a curious effort, under the surface, to make such Asiatic
drugs as normal as European drinks. It is a sort of subterranean
conspiracy that ranges from the _Confessions_ of De Quincey to the
_Moonstone_ of Wilkie Collins. Fortunately, tradition was too strong for
it; and Christian men continued to prefer the grape of life to the poppy
of death.

Then it would be easy to add, upon this secondary plane, that Coleridge
did really suffer from other misleading influences besides opium. "The
Ancient Mariner" is probably one of the most original poems that were
ever written; and, like many original things, it is almost antiquarian.
Like most Romantics reviving the Gothic without understanding the
mediaeval, he carried archaism to lengths that were almost comic. I am
not sure that he did not call the Mariner a Marinere. All that affects
us as too reminiscent of the Olde English Tea-Shoppe. A more serious
difficulty was that he turned too sharply from France to Germany. It was
very natural that a Romantic should take refuge in the German forests,
and still more in the German fairy-tales. It was a more unfortunate
adventure that he took refuge with the German philosophers. They
encouraged him, as did the drug, in a sort of misty infinity, which
confused his real genius for definition and deduction. It was in every
way excellent, of course, that the great German literature of the great
German age, the age of Goethe and of Lessing, should be opened up to
English readers; and perhaps it could have been done by Coleridge more
calmly and luminously than it was afterwards done by Carlyle. But if
Goethe was the great and good influence of Germany, Kant was on the
whole the great and bad influence. These two great Germans offer any
number of aspects to be admired or criticized; but, on the whole, Goethe
made Germany a part of Europe, while Kant cut it off from Europe,
following a wild light of its own, heaven knows where. Coleridge the
philosopher can be criticized on various grounds; including the ground
that he did not know the great philosopher of Christendom that was
behind him. But Coleridge the poet cannot be criticized at all.

XV About the Past

New movements in literature are those which copy the last century but
one. If they copy the last century, they are old-fashioned; but if it is
quite clear that they are much more than a hundred years old, they are
entirely fresh and original. It is true that there are certain literary
men, claiming to inaugurate literary movements, who try to avoid the
difficulty by various methods; as by writing their poetry upside down,
or using words that consist entirely of consonants; or publishing a book
of entirely blank pages, with a few asterisks in the middle to show that
there is a break in the narrative. These or similar scribes are
conjectured to be trying to copy the literature of the next century.
They may freely be left for that century--to forget. Moreover, parallel
perversities, if not exactly the same ones, are also to be found
scattered through the centuries of the past. Of such a kind, for
instance, were the Renaissance games or sports which consisted of
shortening or lengthening the lines of poetry, so as to make the whole
poem a particular shape, such as the shape of a heart or a cross or an
eagle. Anyhow, if we eliminate a few such eccentric experimentalists,
who think they anticipate the intelligence of the future by being
unintelligible in the present, the general rule about change and
rejuvenation in literature is much as I have stated it. It is essential
for the pioneer and prophet, not so much to go forward very far, as to
go back far enough. The general rule is to skip a century, as some
hereditary features are said to skip a generation. There is something
very odd about this system of alternation, black and white like a
chessboard. It is as if every man always hated his father and adored his

About some epochs of culture, all this is fairly well known and fairly
widely admitted. Most people realize, for instance, that the Romantics
of the nineteenth century were appealing back to the more purely
poetical poets of the seventeenth century, against the almost prosaic
poets of the eighteenth. Indeed, Romanticism, though it so often went
with Revolutionism, was in its very nature a more general appeal to the
past. Perhaps the most genuinely and practically effective popularizer
of the new Romanticism was Sir Walter Scott, whose truest title is The
Antiquary. But the same is true, of course, of the other Romantics who
were not, as Scott was, personally Tory and traditional. Coleridge's
"Ancient Mariner" was taken as the very type of a new and original and
even fantastic form in literature. Yet the "Ancient Mariner" has a form,
and it happens to be an entirely antiquated form. The Ancient Mariner
was a very Ancient Mariner. Even Byron was always looking backward, and
he died not for the modern Liberals, but for the ancient Greeks. Had he
been a true Progressive, and observed the gradual improvement in all
things, by the substitution of higher for lower civilization, he would,
of course, have preferred to reverence the more recent phenomenon of the
Turks. But, generally speaking, it is true to say that the modern
Romantics were not really looking to the sunrise; they were pursuing a
most gorgeous and glorious sunset, of which the last trail and
after-glow vanished with Crashaw and the Cavalier mystics. The men of
the nineteenth century were following the men of the seventeenth
century; the last century but one. Anyhow, the last century is the last
century men will follow.

What is not so clearly seen is that the same is true of the twentieth
century; and the twentieth century also is copying the last century but
one. In short, it is copying the eighteenth century, and especially all
that was most hated and condemned in the work of the eighteenth century.
This is specially true of two outstanding features which many have
thought to be a great deal too outstanding. They specially imitate,
among the elements of the eighteenth century, its coarseness and its
coldness. I do not necessarily use these terms merely as terms of abuse;
it is much more important that the new writers themselves will use them
as terms of praise. They would describe the coarseness as candour and
the coldness as detachment; and in this again the eighteenth and the
twentieth centuries would meet. But we get no farther in such a matter
by selecting terms of praise or blame for an objective fact of history.
A young writer to-day does not admit that he is less educated because he
uses the words which old writers learned in the gutter and the greasy
tavern. He does not admit that he is less humanistic because his
characters behave in as inhuman a manner as the tricky and treacherous
and heartless lovers in the old cynical comedies.

These new writers are making a new attempt to find civilization along
the old rationalistic road, which is now nearly two hundred years old,
rather than along the romantic road, which is only a hundred. Allowing
for the inevitable but incidental difference in the details of the day,
which have to be discussed, the spirit of the Very Modern Young Man is
the spirit of a man in a three-cornered hat and a powdered wig. Much as
may be said about disorder in the arts, there is another side to the
recent realism of literature. It has its own kind of neatness, just as
it has its own kind of nastiness. The same can be said of the detailed
drawings of Hogarth. Even its extravagances are more often satires and
less often visions. Mr. Aldous Huxley much more clearly suggests a
return to Swift than an extension of Yeats. Mr. Yeats will not care
about that, partly because he is too great a man to care, and partly
because nobody has a finer admiration for Swift than he. But obviously
the ruthlessness of _Brave New World_ is more like the ruthlessness of
_Gulliver's Travels_ than it is like the more optimistic ruthlessness of
the nineteenth-century visits to Utopia or the Earthly Paradise, in
books like _News from Nowhere_ or _New Worlds for Old._ It is equally
obvious, in the debates about sex, that men like Mr. Aldous Huxley,
following on men like Mr. Bernard Shaw, have been merely rebelling
against that Romance which was itself a rebellion; rebellion against the
realism and common sense of the age of rapiers and snuff-boxes. Much
that is called immoral in a modern novel might have been called highly
moral in an eighteenth-century tract, warning the young of the close
connexion between the girls and the gallows. Sentimentalism is a mere
catchword; but, anyhow, we do not entirely solve the puzzle we call
Progress by looking at the pictures of The Rake's Progress or The
Harlot's Progress. Those who despise sentimentalism now have rather a
tendency to talk as if nobody had ever despised sentimentalism before.
And so the rather feverish youthful genius in Chelsea or Bloomsbury
feels that he alone has flung off all the fetters of all the ages when
he braces himself with a bold effort to say something daring and
destructive and then says exactly what Dr. Johnson would have said.

Nobody supposes such parallels are complete. Nobody supposes that such
comparisons are concerned with mere copies. It does not follow that the
new writer has not something in him that is really new; or, what is much
more important, something that is really his own. The point is that such
inspiration as he does invoke does not come from the newer things, but
rather from the older things. The poets of the Sitwell family, for
instance, have been both chaffed and flattered for introducing newer
things; but, in fact, they are particularly fond of the older things.
Their taste in gimcracks is exactly the eighteenth-century taste; when
one of them gives Apollo a "golden peruke," we see a hundred embroidered
pictures or painted tiles in old mansions and museums; and Miss Edith
Sitwell has written what would be the best, if it were not the only,
sustained eulogy on Pope.

XVI About Meredith

I happened to meet again, recently, after many years, a very brilliant
and distinguished Italian professor who specializes in the study of
English literature. And almost the first words he spoke to me, with more
than Italian vivacity, and even agitation, were: "What has happened to
George Meredith?"

He said it as if George Meredith were still alive, but had been missing
for three days from his Surrey home; as if fears were entertained that
he might have fallen off Box Hill or been battered featureless by the
traffic in Guildford High Street; as if all England were searching for
the missing novelist and Scotland Yard was believed to be in possession
of a clue. But I knew my Italian friend's meaning much better. What
puzzled him was not that all England was searching for George Meredith,
but rather that all England was not searching for George Meredith; or
even searching for George Meredith's books. And it gave me an increased
respect for the acumen and vigilance with which he followed our island
literature, to know that he had noticed this very curious blank and even
oblivion that has followed on so much admitted brilliance and fame. To
any one who remembers, as I do, the days when Meredith was not merely
the idol of the intellectuals, but regarded by all the intelligent as
one out of the two or three really great men who could be regarded as
leaders of the literature of England in the face of Europe, there is
something very extraordinary about this capricious and sudden silence.
It is all the more extraordinary because of the ideas for which Meredith
stood and the qualities which his admirers chiefly admired. It seemed to
most of us, in our boyhood, that he was not only the greatest literary
artist then present, but that he was prophetically the first literary
artist of the future. He was not only the greatest English author alive,
but the only English author who would live. And yet he has not really
lived; certainly he has not yet really triumphed. He was the champion of
all the things that were expected to triumph; nay, the things that many
people tell us have already triumphed. He was, for instance, the
champion of Feminism. I do not say that his "Ballad of Fair Ladies in
Revolt" could actually have been sung as a marching song by the
well-drilled battalions of Mrs. Pankhurst. For Meredith's literary style
did not always lend itself to being used as a roaring chorus for the
march or the camp-fire. But, in its philosophy, it expressed almost
everything that the Suffragettes wanted to say, and was, in form, more
philosophical and intellectual than most of the things they did say. He
anticipated the reaction against the Rhodes and Rudyard Kipling type of
Imperialism, and urged the sympathetic comprehension of the Celt against
the more arrogant nineteenth-century nonsense about the universal
superiority of the Anglo-Saxon. True, he was enough of a
nineteenth-century man to trace these differences almost entirely along
the lines of race, and to be entirely ignorant, for instance, of the
extent to which they followed the lines of religion. But that was not so
much because he had the limitations of a nineteenth-century man as
because he had the even narrower limitations of a free-thinker.

Anyhow, in a score of ways, the modern world has followed the
Meredithean model for the world, and one could have sworn that he was
safe for a much frequented shrine in the Pantheon of Progress. A much
more frequented shrine, in fact, is that of Thomas Hardy, who was also a
free-thinker, but a much less practical friend to freedom. Hardy was,
indeed, full of the sense of numberless things that ought to be done,
but it was somewhat softened and mellowed by a persistent doubt about
whether they could be done. But Meredith was the sort of
nineteenth-century Liberal who was full of a flaming certainty that they
would be done; and they were done. But he has no particular credit now
for having helped to do them. And it seems, in some strange sense, that
it is Meredith himself who is done. I would not disgrace my own older
generation by saying for a moment that he is done for, but there seem to
be large numbers of the newer generation who act on the assumption that
he is done with.

I am well aware, of course, that these political and sociological
aspects are quite secondary in the estimate of a great master of
imaginative fiction; a man who could create men, and especially women.
But such things as his failure to figure, even as a memory, in what many
would call the victory of women really is part of a whole comparison
that is something of a puzzle. Nothing was more puzzling, for instance,
than the strange story of the two funerals, the funeral of Meredith and
the funeral of Hardy. Enthusiasts, if I remember rightly, demanded a
grave for Meredith in Westminster Abbey; and it was refused. Enthusiasts
demanded a grave for Hardy in Westminster Abbey; and it was at least
partially, or by some compromise, granted. I cannot imagine why. If it
were a question of literary fame, Meredith stood then even higher than
Hardy. If it were a question of incongruity of religion or irreligion,
the objection was infinitely stronger against Hardy than against
Meredith. Hardy, with all his virtues, or possibly as one of his
virtues, was quite frankly provocative atheist and pessimist. Meredith
was not a provocative atheist and not a pessimist at all. A man might
read five volumes of Meredith and not find a single direct taunt like
that about the President of the Immortals delighting in the torture of

It was not so much that Meredith did not worship God as that he did
worship Nature. And perhaps that is where the breach has come between
him and the new sceptics, who are often more bitterly at war with Nature
than with God. There are even hints in the work of later sceptics, like
Mr. Aldous Huxley and others, that, if they were absolutely driven to
the alternative, they would rather take refuge with the supernatural
than with the natural. Perhaps Meredith inherited even too much of that
sentiment, which was spread all over that century, from Wordsworth to
Whitman, that the earth is itself a healer and all its green and growing
things are a hope. Yet Meredith was sound and sincere in his own
particular version of this vision--that of the wilderness as a sort of
garden of medicinal herbs; nor is he proved wrong by the mere fact of
another generation of the young, with quite exceptionally sour stomachs,
thinking that the physic is nasty. But even if this be granted as a fair
difference of opinion, it does not explain the decline of interest in
all that once made Meredith most interesting. It does not explain the
lack of memory or allusion concerning the real business of the novelist
as a novelist. His character drawing surely remains unquestionably
lively and sympathetic. Moreover, though he delighted in a sort of
sophistication, it is by no means true that he only wrote about the
sophisticated. Following the sad habit of the times, it is long since I
have read the greater part of Meredith; but I think the thing that
stands out with most startling veracity in my memory is his description
of ordinary schoolboys. I shall never forget the moment when some
boy--Harry Richmond, I think--is challenged by another boy to repeat the
word "fool," and then to repeat it twenty times. And, "with a
seriousness of which only boys and such barbarians are capable," Harry
actually recited the word with precisely the required number of
repetitions. There is nothing perverse or euphuistic about that; and we
are always certain, in Meredith's books at least, that boys will be
boys. The truth is that Meredith was both full-blooded and also foppish
and even foolish. He was affected because he was vain, but he was vain
because he was natural. We might understand him better as an artist of
the Renaissance.

XVII About Political Creeds

As I am myself a Liberal without any Liberal Party; a Little-Englander
in the sense that I care more about England than about Newfoundland or
Tasmania; a Radical in all my instincts in the general social quarrels
of our plutocracy; an ex-Socialist who is still enough of a Socialist to
be a sort of revolutionist, and to regret that the Socialists have
become as respectable as the Prime Minister; a Distributist who denies
that any of the nineteenth-century parties of squires and merchants had
the remotest notion of what was wrong with the nineteenth century,
especially in England (for what was wrong was the absence of peasants,
who are equally opposed to merchants and squires)--in short, since I am
a disreputable demagogic sort of person, holding that most reforms are
too slow rather than too fast--from all this it will be easily and
naturally deduced that my favourite politician is Mr. Baldwin. The
deduction may not be swift and obvious; but it is sound. When I say my
favourite politician, I mean in so far as any politician can be
anybody's favourite. I do not take the taste with tremendous solemnity;
because our politicians do not control our politics. Even the best of
them are forced to a continuous compromise by the pressure of private
interests, which are also public monopolies; and it is these commercial
monopolies that rule the State. But if I were in practical politics
(which God forbid), and if they involved me in that particular problem
of party allegiance, I should support Mr. Baldwin for all I was worth,
or rather for all he is worth--which is not a little. I should support
him even though I disagree with him; on the ground that at least he is
more liberal than the Liberals, more social than the Socialists, and
immeasurably more patriotic than the Imperialists. I should support him
through thick and thin; for I think the opposing theories are pretty
thin and the impudence a bit thick. I should support him especially
against his loyal and devoted followers.

But I value him very specially for this: that I do think he is the one
politician alive who has some inner understanding of the English people.
They are exceedingly difficult to understand. So far from being merely
bluff and sturdy, as they used to imagine, they are by far the most
subtle and complex of all the great nations of Christendom. Since the
fall of the Stuarts, with the beginning of the eighteenth century, their
system has worked with a quite abnormal sort of anonymity and
evasiveness. At that date they set up a king who was not allowed to
govern anything and an aristocracy which in reality governed everything,
but which went on saying louder and louder that it governed nothing and
was not an aristocracy at all. All our chief official figures are
unofficial; they are in that sense outsiders. The Prime Minister is an
outsider, for he is unknown to the British Constitution. The Speaker is
so called because he is the one Member who never speaks. The Cabinet
carries with it the suggestion of a secret meeting; or men hiding in a
corner, or even locked up in a box. For the only lawful power was in the
Privy Council, which never meets at all. The power has passed to
something much privier than a Privy Council. These are only instances
taken at random; these and a thousand other things illustrate the
strange quality I have mentioned; the quality of evasiveness; we might
say of escape. And the most singular form of it is that to which I have
already referred, the curious anonymity of aristocracy. For two
centuries, and at least up to very lately, England has been a State of a
special historical type. It was a type very common in mercantile and
seafaring States; as in the Republic of Venice and the Republic of
Holland. One feature of these Republics was that they were not
republican--in the modern sense of democratic. But the feature of
England was more odd and unique. It was, in effect, that aristocrats
could do anything except call themselves aristocrats. They must be very
careful only to call themselves gentlemen. It may seem a very vague and
irrational understanding, but upon that understanding rested the safety
of a vast and often victorious system; and, for some time at least, the
greatness of England.

Now when the quarrel began about the Black-shirts and the Red Peril in
England, Mr. Baldwin said one very profound and penetrating thing.
Nobody else said it; and nobody seems to have taken any particular
notice of it. What he said was, in substance, this, or words to the same
effect. Whatever you may think about rival theories or systems, the fact
will remain that Communists generally are poor men and Fascists
generally are not. He was right; and it is unfortunately the fact, in
England, that a fight between them will seem to be simply a fight of
rich men as such against poor men as such. And _that_ is precisely the
one thing that the policy of a popular gentry must avoid as a matter of
life and death. Cynically speaking, it may have any amount of general
injustice, in the impersonal pressure of one economic class upon
another. But if you can actually take a snapshot of the squire kicking
the poacher, if you can prove the practical occurrence of a banker
bashing a beggar on the head--then you explode the whole generous
fiction on which the popularity of a gentry reposes. Anybody who does
not understand that does not understand the English people; and Mr.
Baldwin does.

It is not so with the same factions of Fascists and Communists on the
Continent. For on the Continent the traditions of a conflict of ideas
have come down continuously from the Crusades and the religious wars and
the wars of the French Revolution. And the intellectual vision, even the
enemy's intellectual vision, is often vivid enough to make men forget
the mere facts of wealth and poverty. When a Crusader fought with a
Saracen, it might happen that the Crusader was a poor knight or squire
driven to the wars by sheer poverty and the other a great Sheik with
whole processions of camels and concubines. Or it might equally happen
that the Crusader was a rich and powerful baron and the Moslem a poor
and ragged Bedouin. But it was in the whole temper of the time to think
of it first as a fight between Christendom and Islam. So, even in
England, as late as the genuine struggle of Roundheads and Cavaliers,
the Cavalier might be a great noble like Newcastle, or he might be a
nameless yeoman from loyal Hereford or Cornwall. The Roundhead might be
a tinker like Bunyan, though he was quite as likely to be a Puritan
aristocrat rich with the abbey lands, or a wealthy London merchant. But
there remained some true feeling that it was the anointed King against
the Parliament--or the Saints. So in Europe still, whatever be the
facts, it is felt as a fight between a Fascist who does believe in the
Corporative State and a Communist who does believe in the Communist
State. But, for good or evil, we have never got ideas worked into the
popular intelligence, as on the Continent. We have forgotten the fight
about ethics, and are left with the depressing substitute of economics.
With us it would really be a Class War; but with them it is only the
last of the Wars of Religion.

XVIII About Shirts

Nobody seems to have seen, in the current tendency to express party
politics by means of Shirts, a new opportunity for expressing them in
the shades of Shirts. Hitherto colours have been used heraldically, in
the manner of people blazoning or brandishing flags; and not
aesthetically, in the manner of people choosing or matching neckties.
Yet it would seem an excellent opportunity for a thoughtful citizen to
suggest the idea that he is Rather Nazi or Not Quite Communist. A wise
and well-balanced Hitlerite, if such a monster is allowed to survive,
might express his doubts by having his new brown shirt fade faintly into
the old field-grey, or having it shot with the richer colour of the Red
International. An Irishman disposed towards compromise (if such a
creature be among the varieties of nature) might very well gratify
General O'Duffy by wearing a blue shirt, but introduce into it a tint of
peacock-blue, verging upon, peacock-green, to indicate his essentially
unbroken loyalty to the more normal national badge and to the Wearing of
the Green. I fear it is only too true that a great many people now
calling themselves Socialists ought to be dressed not in red, but in
pink. And though I am no admirer of Bolshevism, I am still less of an
admirer of pink. Pink seems to me the essentially false and negative
colour; because it is the dilution of something that is rich and glowing
or nothing. I do not object to pale blue, because it is sky-blue, and I
graciously grant permission to the University of Cambridge to continue
to employ the emblem of its traditional tint. But the sky is in its
nature pale and translucent; it is the vehicle of light; it is sometimes
actually white and blank; and the infusion of a faint and rather cold
colour like blue is appropriate to it. But pink suggests nothing but the
horrible and blasphemous idea of wine with too much water in it. Pink is
the withering of the rose and the fading of the fire; pink is mere
anaemia in the blood of the universe. And there is a merely pink
humanitarianism which I dislike even more than the real Red Communism.
It is not so honest; it is not so genuinely angry or so justly angry;
and it is ultimately every bit as negative and destructive of the strong
colours and definite shapes of any great historical culture. It will not
weaken civilization the less because it is too watery to burn it in a
night; for you cannot set fire to a town with pink torches or pink
artillery. This cold and colourless sentimentalism none the less
threatens the world like a slow and crawling Deluge. It especially
threatens the colours of the world. It is a wash-out.

With this melancholy exception of the pink social reformers, however, it
is curious to notice that the difference of shirts, with its opportunity
for the difference of shades, has appeared at the very moment when such
fine shades are most furiously and impatiently disregarded. The old
rosettes of Buff and Blue were all cut to one pattern and coloured with
one dye; as if to make it impossible for men to express personality in
party politics or to effect compromise in party divisions. There was no
green in the Orangeman's eye, or in the fine shades of the Tory True
Blue. And yet, in the actual centre of our parliamentary politics, the
colours ran into each other much more easily than the vivid patches of
the patchwork Europe of to-day. Men were solemnly brought up as Whigs
and Tories; but there was much less difference between the Whig and the
Tory than there is to-day between a Fascist who has been a Syndicalist
and a Communist who has been an Anarchist. Our rigid party system did
not need to stretch; because the two parties were already stationed in
close proximity. An older analogy than the comparison of flags and
shirts, of uniforms and underclothing, can be found in the more or less
unique architectural structure of the English House of Commons. I do not
refer to what is, perhaps, the most English thing about it; that it is
actually built on the assumption that a large number of its members will
never turn up. I mean that we have again the paradox that there is most
apparent division of parties exactly where there is least real division
of principles. The Continental Parliaments are nearly all of them
arranged on the principle of a Curve of Relativity; almost like that of
Einstein. The seats are arranged in a crescent only tending to two
extremes at its two horns; the positions known as the Extreme Right and
the Extreme Left. But any number of people can sit left of the Right and
right of the Left. And I believe these intermediate seats are or were
chosen in a more or less symbolic manner, to show that a member is more
Radical than one group, but less Radical than another; as a man might
say he was more Socialist than Mr. Lansbury but less Socialist than Mr.
Maxton. For nobody could possibly be less Socialist than Mr. MacDonald.

This method of relative Left and Right really is the sort of thing that
bears some resemblance to a Communist having a red shirt and a Socialist
a pink shirt. That is, it allows of degree and fine shades of
individuality. On the other hand, the very shape of the British Houses
of Parliament seems designed for the most drastic party discipline and
the most unwavering party choice. There are only two sides in the
parliamentary chamber; as there were primarily only two sides in the
parliamentary system. They face each other stiffly, like two lines
deployed in battle; yet, as a matter of fact, there has been very much
less battle. It was in the Continental council chambers, curved to
follow every gradation of thought and allowing for all compromises
between all extremes, that desks have been most frequently broken,
ink-bottles most vigorously hurled, riots most frequently prolonged into
the night, and duels most eagerly appointed for the morning.

I think this worth noting just now, because it confirms something I said
recently about a real fallacy in the particular fashion now seeking to
improve upon Parliament. I hope nobody will accuse me of the fatuous
official optimism which still talks as if Parliament could not be
improved. Whatever else we may think of the practical architecture of
St. Stephen's chamber, I trust no sane people differ about the vastness
and vista of the room for improvement. Indeed, one of the very worst
things about Parliament is the parliamentary defence of Parliament.
Politicians are using the same silly tricks of smug secrecy and evasion,
which they used over the most trivial intrigues in the institution, as a
belated and blundering defence of the institution itself. They have
never had any notion of defending a thing, except proving it to be
indefensible by leaving it undefended. They say nothing about the real
distrust now so widely felt, when financial corruption has been followed
by financial collapse. But there is something to be said for Parliament;
at least there is something to be said against the Fascists who would
merely destroy Parliament.

And it is expressed in the paradox that the very mildest of all party
systems was expressed in the military regimentation of its benches or
the heraldic fixity of its badges. Foreigners had fights, which were not
designed and occurred from time to time. We had a sham fight, which was
designed, and which occurred all the time. But behind that sham fight
was much more of unity; possibly far too much unity. Therefore the
Totalitarian State, with its one badge, its one bench and its one party,
is not a cure for the old evils of the English party system. It was much
too Totalitarian a State already. Its apparent party divisions were
merely a popular sport, like the Boat Race; which is also the one and
only example I know of shirts, ties, and badges being differentiated
only by two shades of the same colour.

XIX About White Fronts

A tremendous international truth dawned upon me the other day in
connexion with the subject of dress clothes, which we rather incorrectly
call evening dress. For in that shade of difference there is a deep and
strange division, and a sort of abyss yawns between England and Europe.
The occasion of the thought may appear somewhat trivial for so vast and
solemn a matter. I met an educated and experienced Englishman, in a
great Italian city in which he had apparently lived for about fifteen
years. But the power of detachment in some English exiles is
extraordinary. This honest gentleman was snorting with fury and contempt
because a very famous foreign author had just given a lecture in the
town; and this benighted foreigner had outraged the primary laws of the
cosmos by wearing a white shirt-front, though it was only five o'clock
in the afternoon. Now, I have not lived in Italy for fifteen years; but
I had not lived in London up to the age of fifteen without hearing from
somebody who knew something about the world that white shirt-fronts do
not mean the same thing in Europe that they mean in England. They do not
stand for evening dress; they only stand for full dress; for formal or
official dress. Sometimes, I believe, they are worn by students going in
for important examinations. When I had a private audience with the Pope,
I wore what we call evening dress, though it was eleven o'clock in the
morning. I did the same when I had an interview with Mussolini. It is
simply the recognized uniform worn to express any sort of special
respect for a special occasion; as Englishmen would wear Court dress at
Court. But in England it has had a particular evolution and adaptation
to a particular social purpose, doubtless for various local reasons. I
suspect that one cause was the common habit of the English gentry of
hunting and riding for long stretches; so that when they returned weary
and muddy they naturally wished to change into something, and fell into
the habit of changing into full ceremonial dress.

But there is nothing central or essential about this particular use of
the thing. What we call evening dress has nothing about it especially
suggestive of the evening. Rather, we might say, its black and white
effects suggest the strong light and shade of broad daylight, and might
be a fitting uniform for noon. Anyhow, it is not specially suggestive of
twilight. So poetical a people as the English, if they had wanted to
invent vestments full of the subdued glow of the gloaming, could surely
have invented something richer and softer than that. A single gleam of
golden shirt-front, a touch of crimson tie, and the rest sinking into
dimmer shades of purple and violet trousers would be more suggestive of
the tints of an English sunset. But the English did not invent evening
dress to symbolize the evening, because the English did not invent
evening dress at all. They took some modification of the general
European form of full dress; and, being rather specially fond of comfort
and cleanliness and such eccentricities, they made it a sort of luxury
to change in the evening. There is nothing wrong about that, and there
may be much that is right about it. The customs which I have conjectured
to be connected with it are quite good customs in their way. It is a
very jolly thing to ride horses; it is even a laudable thing to please
ladies. But it is only one of the ten thousand good customs there are in
the world; and it is a local variation of something that existed before
in a more general and formal form. But so completely had my friend
succeeded in living spiritually in Surbiton, while living physically in
Florence, that he had never so much as heard in all those fifteen years
that foreigners wore shirt-fronts on a different system of etiquette. He
regarded the poor foreign gentleman as some sort of impossible
swaggering snob, whose raging vanity and vulgarity could not be
restrained from beginning to put on evening dress immediately after
lunch. This seems to me a very extraordinary state of things; very comic
and rather tragic, in these days when so much may depend upon Christian
nations understanding each other.

I do not want the English or anybody else to be international in the
sense of cosmopolitan. Christendom has developed in a national form; and
men who have no patriotism are not inside Europe but rather outside it.
A Frenchman who does not love France, an Englishman who does not love
England, is a bad European and not a good European. He has no sympathy
with some of the strongest motives of all other Europeans. But the case
I mean is something quite different from the case for cosmopolitanism.
Indeed, the case is exactly the other way. Bigotry of the kind I mean
does not arise from feeling vividly the points of difference, but rather
from not realizing that there can be any differences at all. It does not
come from valuing a local thing as local, but from exactly the opposite
error of supposing that it must be universal.

The English are not Nationalist enough. They love their nation; but they
love it almost without knowing that it is a nation. And even when such
an emotion is both natural and noble, there is always some
miscalculation or confusion when things are not loved strictly according
to their own nature; as there are people who cannot be persuaded to love
a dog as a dog or a child as a child. An attachment to particular
variations of custom or humour is weakened when it is watered down to a
sort of false generalization. Now, the common English error is
excellently illustrated in that trivial topic of dress clothes. The
English do not say, "This is the English way and a jolly good way it
is." They say, "This is the only way; and it is a curious fact that,
wherever we go in our travels, we notice that it is only the English who
really observe it." Instead of saying that their custom is a good
custom, or even that it is the best custom, they say that nobody except
themselves seems to bother about observing the custom which every one
must admit is the best. And this blunder comes from blindness to
national differences, rather than from exaggeration of them. It does not
come from being too vivid, but rather from being too vague, about the
difference between an Englishman and an Italian.

I am inclined to think that this vague prejudice is now much more
dangerous than a more violent prejudice. It is not the old problem of
softening almost savage prejudices in the provinces of Europe; it is not
that Englishmen have any particular tendency to hate Frenchmen or
Germans; for the English have very little natural tendency to hate
anything. It may well be said that there are many things, such as some
of their own abuses and falsifications, which they do not hate enough.
The nature of the error lies in this: that they never by any chance
think of an English thing as a variation of a European thing. Only too
often they think of a European thing as a mere misapplication of an
English thing. If they saw a portrait of Francis I in a wide flat cap
and a square-cut jacket, they would not unnaturally say that Francis I
was dressed like Henry VIII. The trouble is that they never think, even
experimentally or fancifully, that Henry VIII was dressed like Francis
I. There would always remain with them a shadowy, fantastic idea that
Louis Napoleon had borrowed the top-hat of Lord Palmerston, and that it
could not possibly be the other way round. They do not distinguish, for
instance, between certain modern inventions which really did originate
in this country and others which have equally certainly originated in
other countries. They think of a railway train as an English thing, and
they are right; for it did actually spread from England to Europe. But
they would hardly think of a motor-car as a French thing, though it
actually originated in the same sense in France and spread to England.
Even the familiar name of the Italian inventor would hardly make them
think of wireless sets as Italian, although the word "Marconi" is almost
a synonym for "wireless." True, for some of us it is still a synonym for
other things.

XX About Impermanence

One of the queer puzzles of modern politics might be stated in this way.
That when power was permanent, it was always reminded that it was
passing; but when power was really supposed to be passing, it was
actually treated as if it were permanent. In the days when kings could
really cut off anybody's head, they were incessantly informed by seers
and sages that they themselves would soon be cut off. When they were
real despots with the power of life and death, there were real prophets
or satirists who told them that death would be the end of their own
life. But nobody ever said this, since democratic and liberal ideas were
supposed to prevail in the State. Nobody told the really temporary ruler
that he was temporary, or even that he was temporal. From the beginning
of historic things, and almost of prehistoric things, there has been
this warning against worldly power. The Egyptian rulers feasted with the
skeleton at the feast. The Roman conqueror, in his triumph, had a slave
towering behind his chariot and whispering "Remember that you are
mortal." The mediaeval Norman king of Sicily, as described in the story,
was reminded by the religious service that God had put down the mighty
from their seat. The later mediaeval princes were familiar with the
habit of feasting under frescoes and mosaics of the Dance of Death,
which showed a squalid skeleton carrying away kings in a bag. Through
the whole of the four thousand years of our recorded history in Europe,
Pagan and Christian, has sounded that sublime and subversive dirge--

  The glories of our blood and state
  Are shadows, not substantial things.

The very Court chaplains of the great French monarchy preached before
the _Roi Soleil,_ telling him that even his own sun would set. And then,
by some quite unaccountable change, there came with the nineteenth
century the notion of men talking as if they alone could live in an
everlasting sunrise.

Nobody ever did these things to modern politicians. Nobody insisted on a
skeleton sitting at Table A, on the right hand of the Lord Mayor
introducing the Prime Minister. Nobody insisted on the large and
terrific Toast-Master, after he had, in a voice of thunder, craved
silence for the Right Honourable the Lord Bundlebury, K.G., K.C.M.G.,
leaning forward and in a low and vibrant voice hissing in the ear of
that statesman: "Remember that you are mortal." Even in the days of
constitutional monarchy, pulpit orations before the king do not remind
us so much of funeral orations over the king. But in the case of
politicians, as distinct from kings, the whole tradition of this truth
has totally disappeared. No artist covers walls and ledges with
decorative designs of Death carrying away Cabinet Ministers in a bag. No
poet writes a mournful ode about newspaper proprietors, even when they
wear coronets, with the ancient burden--

  The glories of our scoop and stunt
  Are shadows, not substantial things.

With the nineteenth century there came in a new and unnatural optimism
about the duration of earthly fashions, political and even
philosophical. Shakespeare, living under the Tudors, who could (and did)
kill anybody they wanted to kill, could write in a detached way about
man who, "dressed in a little brief authority, plays such fantastic
tricks before high heaven as make the angels weep." The modern elected
politician is in theory dressed in even more brief authority. And,
heaven knows, he plays fantastic tricks enough; not only to make the
angels weep, but even possibly to make the angels laugh. And yet no
poets or dramatists of the last hundred years ever wrote in that fashion
about him. Nobody ever told the popular Prime Minister that he also
would pass away, not even six months before he did pass away. Nobody
ever told politicians that they would be food for worms, even when the
worms were almost indistinguishable from the politicians. That long,
literary lamentation and protest against the powers of this world, which
has gone on through the ages, and includes a thousand things from the
_Magnificat_ to _Gulliver's Travels,_ did in some strange way stop with
the epoch of parliamentary rule, which was supposed to be popular rule.
Of all the questions asked by hecklers at a political meeting to support
a parliamentary candidate, I gravely and grievously doubt whether any
man ever rose from the back benches, a sad and saturnine figure, to say:
"Mr. Chairman, I should like to ask our candidate whether it has ever
occurred to him that he will one day die."

All this, I fear, will sound very fantastic in modern ears; and even
especially in parliamentary ears, which are often rather long ears. But
I do sincerely believe that it contains the essential point about the
essential evil that has ruined parliamentary institutions, considered as
popular institutions. That sort of optimism is alone enough to cut men
off from common human happiness. All the old rulers of mankind, in one
way or another, were steeped in this grand and tragic tradition. The
king was constantly reminded that he would die; the priest existed to
remind him that he would die; the soldier was, by hypothesis, a man
permanently ready to die. But this sense of the mortal brotherhood of
mortals in some way disappeared when the modern world began to teach
brotherhood. Since that time every General Election has been regarded as
a Last Judgment. Since then, every democratic experiment has been a New
Deal. People were taught to look only to the future, or at least every
part of it except their own future. They were taught never to look at
the past, because the past had borne unbroken testimony to this element
of time and change. And that is the real reason why the world has been,
as they say just now, disappointed with democracy. There is no necessary
depression or despair about democracy. What is depressing is optimism.
There is nothing false in the idea of the equality of man; but there is
something utterly false in denying the thing in which men are most
obviously equal, which is death.

If the modern democratic experiment had been a mediaeval democratic
experiment--if it had been, for that matter, a Moslem democratic
experiment--it would not have made this mistake or got into this mess.
The nuisance of the nineteenth century was that it tried to combine the
common sense of the fellowship that men have in common, which is all
perfectly sound and true, with an artificial expectation of Utopia; an
entirely new notion that everything that was bad yesterday, and worse
to-day, will inevitably be right to-morrow. That large and ludicrous
illusion has nothing to do with the idea of men feeling their fellow-men
as fellows--or even as good fellows. It was an illusion of the
intellectuals, who happened to be prigs and dictated the Victorian idea
of progress. There is nothing wrong with democracy; there is nothing
wrong with the people ruling, except what is wrong with anybody out of
the people ruling; what is wrong is forgetting that people are only
people. They will make mistakes, as you and I make mistakes; and as all
our superiors, the supermen, the dictators, the makers of modern
systems, will also make them. There was only one supreme modern mistake,
which was that men forgot for a hundred years that they are liable to
make mistakes.

XXI About Morris

I confess that to me the celebration of the Centenary of William Morris
seems to have been both inadequate and inappropriate. The world seems to
be divided in this respect into two very unequal sections. The first are
those who owe everything to Morris and have forgotten him. The second
are those who owe nothing to Morris but still desire to claim him. They
claim him mostly on the excuse of the word "Socialist"; a word which was
not really very applicable to him, and is now pretty well applicable or
inapplicable to anybody. Morris certainly called himself a Socialist;
but that hardly seems sufficient reason for people of a totally opposite
type calling him a Communist; in the face of the quite different and
quite definite modern meaning of Communism. Mr. Middleton Murry makes
what I cannot but think a delicate insinuation that the conversion of a
literary man like himself to Communism is more or less comparable to the
conversion of the older literary man to Socialism. But it is precisely
by the test of literature, that is the test of imagination, that it is
quite impossible to get the two things into the same picture. It would
be difficult to maintain that Milton was a belated mediaeval
ballad-monger, caring only for the rude old rhymed ballads and loathing
the influence of classical dignity and a stately style. It would be
difficult to maintain that Coleridge was a cold and mechanical imitator
of Pope, concentrated on wit and reason and utterly hostile to vision
and imagination. It would be hard to represent Walt Whitman as caring
for nothing except the classical cameos of Landor. But it would be much
harder than any of these, as an effort of imagination, to imagine
William Morris worshipping modern machinery as the highest form of
"rhythm," in accordance with the ugly Proletarian art of the modern
Bolshevists. Of course, when once a man is dead, you can say anything
you choose about what he would have done if he were alive. Dead men tell
no tales and contradict no tales; and there is nothing to prevent the
tale-bearers from writing a post-mortem sequel full of amazing
conversions and contradictions. But a man has just as much right to say
that Shelley would have become a True Blue Tory and High Churchman, or
that Hurrell Froude, of the Oxford Movement, would soon have turned into
a Radical secularist of the Manchester School, as to say that the human,
historical William Morris, as he really was, would have tolerated for
ten seconds the vast industrial materialism of the Five-Year Plan.

The great achievement of William Morris was this: that he nearly
convinced a whole generation that the nineteenth century was not normal.
In this he was years and years ahead of the Communists of the twentieth
century, who still really believe that the nineteenth century was
normal. Otherwise, they would not believe that all this nightmare of
machinery is normal; still less that it is new. When the Bolshevist of
to-day tells us that through the impersonal power and massed material
force of machinery we shall reach a more rational civilization, he is
talking exactly as Mr. Gradgrind, Mr. Bounderby, Mr. Podsnap, and Mr.
Bottles talked in fiction; and exactly as Sir Robert Peel, Mr. Roebuck,
Mr. Bright, and Mr. Brown, of Victoria Villas, West Brixton, talked in
real life. Both existed under the superstition or delusion that machines
and machine-made goods are a part of the necessities of a humane culture
or a common comfortable life. The Marxians, of course, have got all
these notions, partly from Marx, who was a nineteenth-century man if
ever there was one, and partly from the accident by which Russia was
necessarily nearly a century behind the other nations, and was still
looking for a panacea in what the rest of us have already found to be a
quack medicine. But Morris was far ahead of Marx. Morris was not a
nineteenth-century man; or he was the one nineteenth-century man who
really saw through the nineteenth century.

It is true that the most widespread effect of his revolution was in the
comparatively superficial matter of domestic ornament or personal
adornment. But precisely because the example is simple, or even because
it is superficial, it serves as a very clear and popular example to
prove the fact. What was the matter with the nineteenth century, at the
height of its commercial triumph, was precisely this illusion of
normality in a thing thoroughly abnormal. The satirists of the Victorian
merchant said that he was commonplace. But the satirists were even more
kind to him than his flatterers. What was the matter with the Victorian
merchant was, not that he was commonplace, but that he thought he was
commonplace. And in this he was totally in error. He had got it fixed in
his mind that wearing a chimney-pot hat, an ugly pair of trousers, an
ugly pair of whiskers was sane and sensible and even ordinary. Compared
with these, he thought that wearing a cocked hat or a cloak or a turban
or a sombrero, or a neat pair of knee-breeches or a fierce pair of
moustaches were all various eccentricities, like the fancies of a
fancy-dress ball. He did not realize that he looked much funnier to the
fantastic foreigners than the fantastic foreigners looked to him. And,
as it was with his dress, so it was with his furniture and even his
architecture; with the repp curtains and red plush sofas and bad
pictures in heavy gilded frames. It would have been all right if he had
said, "This is my taste"; but what he did say was, "This is everybody's
common sense." Now, to upset a public prejudice like that is much more
difficult than to murder an emperor or seize the government offices of a

Morris is still occasionally reproached with the fact that he largely
selected, as his counter-example of a more common and human background,
the stretch of centuries that we call the Middle Ages. But in truth, one
does not need even to be a mediaevalist in order to see that he was
right to choose the mediaeval. If, for instance, he had tried to make
his revolution a return to the classic freedom of Greek and Pagan
antiquity, his revolution would have been no revolution at all. It was
precisely from the too-crushing convention derived from classic
antiquity that art in his time had suffered most. For him it was not
only the antique, but the antiquated; even in the ordinary recent sense
of the old-fashioned. It was already the mere conventionalism of the
Academy and the Academy School. It could not be really the Renaissance
of the Hellenic at the very moment when it was the death and dregs of
the Renaissance. But there is a further subtlety not sufficiently
noticed. Few have really looked quite straight at the Greek beauty of
the Gorgon; and most of them have been turned to stone. The Renaissance
of the sixteenth century saw it, quite as much as did the
Pre-Raphaelitism of the nineteenth century, in the mirror of its own
mood. Morris did deal with Jason as well as John Ball; but he saw Jason
through a mediaeval medium. So did the Victorian classicists see Jason
through a modern medium. A Renaissance style, filtered through Rubens
and Reynolds, was no more Greek than a classical theme rendered by
Botticelli or Burne-Jones. Both were modern versions; but the mediaeval
version had this advantage: that mediaevalism marked a period really
noted for forms of craftsmanship needed to correct the mechanism of the
nineteenth century. Thus William Morris stands between two mechanical
heresies; testifying that true art is always manual labour. In spite of
the Victorians, it is not normal that work should be mass production. In
spite of the Bolshevists, their imitators, it is not normal that it
should be mass possession.

XXII About Widows

Widows have always been regarded as an alarming and avenging tribe. In
the background of history, back to the time of barbarism, they stand
like rigid statues with uplifted arms, calling down the vengeance of
heaven upon slayers and spoilers; it was especially their wrongs that
the knight was pledged to vindicate when he received the accolade; it is
still to the righting of their grievances that the King is bound by the
Coronation Oath. They have been nobly treated in ancient tragedy and
even in more recent romance; as in that story of the Highland Widow,
which is always classed with Scott's worst works, apparently because it
is one of his best. The atmosphere changed from tragedy to comedy, with
the coming of the more comfortable sentimentality of the nineteenth
century. The conception of the comic widow, as distinct from the tragic
widow, a conception started long before by the arresting originality of
Chaucer, touching that recurrent widow, the Wife of Bath, underwent
another broadening and flattening in passing from the comedy of Chaucer
to the comedy of Dickens. Tony Weller became the voice of mankind,
uttering its ancient fear of widows. And now the widow has entered on a
third phase in relation to literature: after the tragedy of Sophocles
and Scott, the comedy of Chaucer and Dickens. The widow has become
literary herself; and reminded us that we might have had the memoirs of
Mrs. Chaucer or the autobiography of Mrs. Dickens. Hitherto, the method
has been simple enough. As next to nothing is known about Philippa
Chaucer, and there is nothing very much to be said about her, there has
been a mysterious assumption that there was nothing to be said for her.
It has been oddly assumed that any Chaucerian jokes about wives must be
jokes against his own wife; in defiance of the obvious fact that most of
the same sort of jokes against wives were made by mediaeval clerics who
had no wives at all. On the other hand, as the wife of Charles Dickens
wrote nothing to speak of about the story of her life, a modern critic
has been so obliging as to write it for her, entirely out of his own

But the third and most formidable phase of the widow in literature
requires special and rather grave consideration. At least two, if not
three or four, of the wives of distinguished men of letters recently
dead have almost simultaneously published their impressions of their own
and their husbands' private lives. It is not my primary purpose here to
discuss the propriety of this new domestic habit beyond saying that
nothing would ever induce me personally to have anything to do with it.
But the deeper causes of this difference of opinion are here rather more
interesting than the difference itself. For the causes seem to me to go
rather deep into a new and even unnatural view of life and art. The
question might be put for debate in many forms; but perhaps the simplest
form of all, to which it ultimately works back, can be found in the old
debating-club query of Is Life Worth Living? For there seem to be more
and more people who put it to themselves, consciously or unconsciously,
in the form of Is Life Worth Writing About?

In other words, it is supposed that all this publicity of
self-revelation represents an interest in private life. Sometimes, it
may be admitted perhaps, an excessive interest in private life. But it
seems to me to indicate a lack of interest in private life. That is, it
is a lack of intensity of interest in life as a thing to be lived, and a
limitation of the interest to a biography as a thing to be written. If
we happen to object to "the sale of Keats's love-letters by auction," as
did Oscar Wilde; or to the clown and knave who would not let the bones
of Shakespeare rest, as did Alfred Tennyson; or to those who would cut a
man's house in two to watch him in his parlour or bedroom, as did Robert
Browning . . . if you happen to express some of the regrets felt by
these eminent Victorians, you will now always find yourself confronted
with one general idea. It is the idea that the love-letters were
_wasted_ if they were not sold to an illiterate millionaire from
Nebraska; or that the poet's private emotions and meditations are
_wasted_ if somebody does not spy upon him walking in his garden; or
that life inside the house is _wasted_ if people outside the house know
nothing about it. And this seems to me to mean a lack of appreciation,
not only of private life, but of life itself. Literary expression is a
very valuable part of human experience; but this is making human
experience merely a part of literary expression. And though it is done
by the most refined persons, and often from really fine motives, it
seems to me to drift unconsciously with the whole of that modern tide of
mere sale and exchange that has been the curse of all our recent
history. I do not mean, of course, that there is any need to denounce
every woman who happens to be a widow who may happen to write something
about some man who happens to be an artist, even if he also happens to
be her husband. It is a question of the way in which the thing is done;
and above all of the way in which the thing is defended. And where it is
defended on the ground that anything left private is merely buried and
lost, that defence is utterly indefensible. It does really imply that
nobody has any inner life; that human happiness is not the need of human
beings; that man is not an end in himself, subject only to the glory of
God; or, in short, that biography was not made for man but man for

What amuses me about this fallacy of the intellectual and the superior
persons is how very near it is to the fallacy of the hucksters and the
go-getters and the most vulgar sort of capitalist exploiters. For they
hold as their chief heresy, in a coarser form, the fundamental falsehood
that things are not made to be used but made to be sold. All the
collapse of their commercial system in our own time has been due to that
fallacy of forcing things on a market where there was no market; of
continually increasing the power of supply without increasing the power
of demand; or briefly, of always considering the man who sells the
potato and never considering the man who eats it. And just as we need
much more of the subsistence farm, or the worker who simply produces for
his own consumption, so we need much more of what may be called in moral
matters the subsistence family; that is, the private family that can be
really excited about its own private life; the household that is
interested in itself. It is all nonsense to say that such a thing is
impossible. Even by the test of literature, there is a whole mass of
literature which witnesses both to its actuality and to its
attractiveness. But life is much more real than literature. What
Stevenson called the great theorem of the livableness of life can be
solved without incessant distractions either of publicity or
dissipation. It cannot be conducted without reasonable holidays and
changes of scene or occupation; nor can anything else. But it can
certainly be conducted; and it can certainly be interesting and even
exciting. Now, to suggest that a love-letter or a family joke or a
secret language among children is never really important until it is
edited and published, is to imply only too much of the suggestion of so
many memoirs: that a man is only interesting when he is dead. For the
whole world of mere stunts and scoops and trading and self-advertisement
is spiritually a world utterly dead; although it is very noisy. It is,
in the precise and literal meaning of the phrase, a howling wilderness.

XXIII About Relativity

When we hear one particular word such as "Relativity" repeated about a
hundred times a week, and scattered over scores of newspapers and novels
and ordinary publications, we may deduce with almost practical certainty
that nobody who is using the word has any notion of what it means. I do
not mean merely that few of them have read about Relativity in some new
and technical sense, in which it may be found necessary for explaining
an abstruse theory of Professor Einstein. I do not even mean that most
people are unacquainted, as they naturally are, with the various forms
of ancient scepticism, dating at least from the earliest Greek
philosophers, to which the term "Relativity" might be reasonably
applied. I mean that people do not consider even the common meaning of
the word that has become so common. They do not realize even what they
themselves mean, or have always meant, by the word considered as a part
of the English language. It is as if there were suddenly a universal
mania for talking about hats, without the faintest memory that they had
ever had anything to do with heads; or as if everybody were
extravagantly excited about cats, while nobody knew whether they were
the same as crocodiles.

In the English language, as in any national language capable of normal
logic, anything relative is relative to something positive. We describe
it by saying it stands in a certain relation to something already known.
This is so in the practical popular use of "relative" or "relation." You
may say with gloom, "I'm going to stay with relations"; or you may say
with complacency, "Admiral Sir Caradoc Valencourt Vere de Vere is a
relative of mine"; or you may say in a Parliamentary manner (if you are
in the House of Lords, as I assume that you are), "My noble relative
will find it difficult to reconcile the baseness and trickery of his
treatment of the pickled-onion problem with his professions as an
Englishman and a Christian"; or you may say sardonically, "I suppose
Mrs. Boulger-Buckett regards us as her poor relations." But in all these
cases, however different the emotion, there is no difference in the
reason, as it defines the nature of a relation. In all cases the other
objects are regarded as being in various relations to a fixed object;
and in this case the object is what is called the subject. In other
words, for a large proportion of fallen humanity the fixed point is
oneself; and this is reasonable, in so far as there is a fixed certainty
of the reality of oneself. You do really know that you really exist;
even in some wild mood in which Admiral Sir Caradoc Vere de Vere might
seem to be only a beautiful dream; or Mrs. Boulger-Buckett one of those
dark fancies that flit across the brain upon the borderland of
nightmare. You therefore speak of them as relative to yourself; if only
because you know more about yourself than you know about them. But when
people begin to talk about universal relativity, as if everything were
as relative as everything else, so that presumably the very notion of
relativity is itself relative, only relative to nobody knows what, they
are simply knocking the bottom out of the world and the human brain, and
leaving a bottomless abyss of bosh. You say, with airy grace, that Sir
Caradoc Vere de Vere is a relation of yours. You do not say he is a
relation, as if it were a profession or a post or a position in itself.
There is no such thing as a relation wandering about the world with
nobody to be related to. And if your philosophy talks of relations in
that sense, the philosopher will decide that they are very poor
relations indeed.

A somewhat similar use has been made lately of the word "hypothesis."
There has been a correspondence in _The Times_ about the nature of
belief, or unbelief, or incidentally of make-believe. This was enriched
by a somewhat pompous letter from a very superior person, who said he
was entirely Modern; and proceeded to set forth as much as he could
understand of the early sceptical sages of ancient Hellas, to whom I
have referred; and proceeded to adorn the theme with things so
exclusively modern as the exact meaning of dialectic in the dialogues of
Plato. But his scepticism was much more archaic than Plato; indeed it
was the sort of nihilistic nonsense that Socrates existed largely in
order to chaff out of existence. The form it took here was the repeated
suggestion that a Modern person cannot believe in anything except as a
hypothesis. In other words, that he cannot believe in anything at all.
For you cannot believe in a hypothesis; you can only give it a fair
chance to prove itself a thesis that can be believed.

Now, even the Modern Man is not necessarily a madman; and this would
hopelessly ruin and destroy every modern use of hypothesis; especially
the whole scientific idea of a hypothesis holding the field. It would
merely mean ensuring that what is called a working hypothesis would not
work. For a man could not even construct a hypothesis if he could only
construct it out of hypothetical things. There can be no hypothesis if
there is nothing but hypothesis. Anybody can see that, if he will merely
consider any actual example. For instance, the Darwinian theory of
Natural Selection was a hypothesis; and it is still only a hypothesis.
Popular science insists on repeating that it is a hypothesis that has
been confirmed; with the result that responsible science is more and
more treating it as a hypothesis that has been abandoned. But it can be
quite rightly treated as a reasonable hypothesis, by anybody who
believes in it, if he can support it with other things in which he
believes; or preferably things in which everybody believes. He is quite
entitled to say, "We suggest that a monkey, probably living in a tree,
became the ancestor of a man, apparently living in a cave, by a process
of adaptations beginning with slight varieties of feature in his family,
by which it survived only in those cases where the features favoured the
finding of food. It may not yet be finally confirmed by the fossils
found in the rocks or the habits of the monkeys still found in the
trees; but we still think it the most probable hypothesis and
confidently await proof." But he could not even say that, if he were
compelled to explain his suggestion in some such form as this: "We
suggest that a monkey (if there are any monkeys) living in a tree (if
there are any trees) became the ancestor of a man (if we may risk the
speculative supposition that there is such a thing as a man) through
certain variations enabling certain types to find food (granted the
truth of the traditional dogma that food is favourable to life), and we
look to the hypothetical fossils which may or may not be found in the
hypothetical rocks which may or may not be found in the world; or to the
behaviour of monkeys we cannot actually believe in, in trees we cannot
actually believe in, and faintly trust to a larger hope that something
may somehow make some sense out of the whole caboodle. But even if
something does happen, by which this hypothesis seems to fit in better
with all the other hypotheses, we can never believe it even at the end
as anything except the hypothesis that it was at the beginning; because
the good kind gentleman in _The Times_ tells us it would not be Modern."

This would be enough to show the futility of this relative and sceptical
style of thinking, even for the pure purposes of thought. It is only
because the reflection adds something to the fun of the thing, that I
even refer to the unthinkable effects which such thought would have upon
action. One thing is at least certain whatever our national or
international views: that, in practice, over large parts of Europe that
sort of scepticism has already perished under terrible tests. The world
resounds with iron convictions, some sinister, some sublime, but all
only too ready to bring forth the fruits of martyrdom or of murder. We
also may yet suffer or defy; and I fear _The Times_ sceptic will
discover that he is not so very Modern.

XXIV About Changing Human Nature

Many modern debates are still revolving round the old question, even if
it is put in new forms, which was generally expressed in the form: "Can
you alter human nature?" Like many such questions, which were at least
accepted as questions, whatever might be the answer, the question was
wrongly asked, even if it was rightly answered. In strict logic and
philosophy, if you could actually alter the nature of human beings, they
would cease to be human beings. So you could not really point to them as
human beings whose nature had been altered. It would be better to put
the question in some such form as this: "What are the elements in
humanity which are changeable; and what are the elements that are
unchangeable, if any of them are unchangeable?" But the question has
almost always been debated between two extreme types of humanity,
neither of whom could be said to specialize in logic or philosophy.

At the one extreme there was the blustering, not to say blundering, type
of Tory who answered almost any proposal for the improvement of social
law and custom by shouting at the reformer: "You can't change human
nature." If, for instance, a reformer proposed to resist the
concentration of capital in combines and corners, the dear old gentleman
would declare that nothing could stop the growth of monopolies and
money-rings, because we could not alter human nature. This only serves
to prove that he was himself singularly ignorant of human nature, if
only because he was singularly ignorant of human history. By a queer
irony, the Conservative who thought he was a traditionalist was
defending the most modern of innovations against all the old traditions
of mankind. And the joke of it is that in this he was himself a living
proof that you can alter human nature, if you call that sort of thing
altering human nature. His moral theory was entirely modern, and was in
flat contradiction to the moral theory that is really ancient. Most of
his ancestors regarded making a corner simply as a crime, like that of
cutting a throat or picking a pocket. Forestallers, as our fathers
called them, were often put in a pillory, or even hanged on a gallows,
to stop them from doing what he declares they cannot be stopped from
doing. If he regards monopoly with patience or approval, while his
fathers regarded it with fury and condemnation, that is alone sufficient
evidence of a change in human nature, in the sense of human theories
about human nature. In fact, that sort of man regards the peculiar vices
of the new age as the permanent vices of every age; that is, when his
complacency does not go further, and regard them as virtues rather than
vices. If that is what is meant by change in the nature of man, it is
quite certain that we could change a monopolist society into an
anti-monopolist society, as we have already changed an anti-monopolist
society into a monopolist society. The real answer is that this sort of
thing is not really a change in the nature of man. It is simply an
unchanging quality in the nature of man that he is fickle, moody, and
one-sided; that he stresses now one point in morals and now another,
neglects one virtue and then goes on in progressive triumph to neglect
another; that he is overpowered by whatever is recent and generally
ignorant of whatever is remote; and, above all, that he mistakes
experience for existence, and supposes that what he sees is all that
there is to see. There certainly is in human nature this changing
quality; and it is an unchanging quality.

On the other side, and at the other extreme, is the eager evolutionist
or progressive who cries aloud: "But we can alter human nature. We have
altered human nature." I happened to meet a young man of this type
recently, a rising and promising man of letters, who used almost exactly
these words, and followed them by the (to me) still more intriguing
words: "In the past, people used to burn witches, to own slaves, to
persecute heretics, and all the rest. Don't you admit that human nature
must have changed?" To which I answered: "No; it has not changed; it has
only been changeable." That is, the young gentleman ignored exactly what
the old gentleman ignored: that there is all the difference in the world
between a man liking different things, like a man, and the man ceasing
to be like a man.

I have not the slightest difficulty in imagining the world of the future
taking a turn which would bring back the fact, if not the form, of
witch-hunting and slavery and the persecution of heresies. These things
might grow out of entirely modern things, without any conscious
reference to the ancient things. For instance, Spiritualism is in origin
a modern thing; and the desire for a certain sort of scientific system
of psychical phenomena is certainly a modern thing. If Spiritualism did
become a world-wide religion, it is not hard to see that divisions would
begin between the more and the less scientific people. Some would
denounce a medium as a fraud, while others would still cling to him as a

For Spiritualism differs from most religions in this: that its
scriptures are not a scroll or book recognized from the beginning; they
are potentially _all_ the scribblings of all the planchettes and
spirit-pens in a thousand private houses. It is inevitable that some
disputes should arise about which come from good spirits, which from
evil spirits, which from evil men. The moment the element of evil
spirits enters, you have the material for horrible panics about their
power and their picked instruments. In a few centuries, a more sombre
psychic sect would be quite capable of regarding others as diabolists to
be cast out like devils. Modern mystics have said some extraordinary
things in that way. A Spiritualist whose book was published when I was a
boy, a certain Dr. Anna Kingsford, proudly proclaimed that she had
killed, not to say murdered, men by an act of will, when they differed
from her on certain points, as on vivisection. That spirit is not far
from that of mystics killing each other, as agents of the mystery of
iniquity. Supposing that large parts of civilization turned to that sort
of mysticism, I do not think it would be long before we had something
resembling the war upon witches. Whether it will take that turn, of
course, I cannot tell; I hope not. But nobody, at this moment, can tell
what turn the spiritual history of the future will take.

Of the other two things my friend thought unthinkable in a changed
humanity, one can speak much more positively. It is inadequate to say
that they might be done in the future; it would be truer to say that
they are being done in the present. There are many indications of men
going back to everything connected with Slavery, except the name of
Slavery. Half the new systems of the hour are now dealing in conscripted
labour, in forced labour of every kind, in which there is no pretence of
a free contract. Strictly speaking, if you keep private property and
forbid strikes, or even individual refusal of work, you do establish
slavery. You even establish a Fugitive Slave Law. But my young friend,
his eyes fixed on the future, had apparently not noticed anything that
has been beginning in the last few years. He had been taught that human
nature had changed; he had not been told that it has changed again.

As for persecution, it has become a grim joke in the case of the Jews;
nor is it less persecution if we call it the persecution of a race and
not the persecution of a religion. The truth is that the whole of the
old original theory of persecution has been openly proclaimed and
practised, not in the old, but in the new political systems. Doubtless
those political systems deal even more in political persecution than in
religious persecution. But that does not make them less persecuting, but
more. The whole point of the last political theory is that sectional
parties and programs must be forcibly effaced; that the opposition press
must be abolished, and only one party allowed. I am not saying that
there is nothing to be said for persecution. It is a much more profound
problem than progressives have ever found out. But it does measure the
exact sense and degree in which humanity does change, that it should
disappear in the nineteenth century to reappear in the twentieth.

XXV About Historians

I am happy to say that there seems to be a real revival of interest in
history; but, oddly enough, it does not mainly express itself in
histories. It seems to express itself almost entirely in biographies.

There are, of course, several distinguished exceptions; it is good news
that so great a scholar as Mr. H. A. L. Fisher has published a History
of Europe; and I think that few more compact and convincing pieces of
work have been done than Mr. Belloc's abridged History of England. But
the fashion of the moment, or the feature of the movement, seems to me
to be the publication of separate monographs on separate historical
characters. We do not see, for instance, at least in any prominent
example, the reappearance of the old full and formal narrative of the
great national legend of the Cavaliers and Roundheads; a complete
history of the Civil War, with its causes and consequences, set out like
a section of a long, complete history of the nation. What we do see on
every bookstall, and in every bookcase, is a number of new biographies
of the men who once figured almost entirely in such histories. We find
that Mr. Belloc writes a book on Charles I; that Mr. Buchan writes a
book on Oliver Cromwell; that Mr. Belloc writes another book on Oliver
Cromwell; and that another historical student has just written another
book on the great Earl of Strafford. I have no doubt that, if I looked
through the literary lists in a more systematic manner than it is within
the power of my patience and virtue to look through anything, I should
find that somebody had written a book on Sir Henry Vane; that somebody
else had written a book on Lord Falkland; that somebody else had made a
most learned study of Clarendon, but had not imitated Clarendon in
writing a history of the Civil War. Now I come to recall it, there was
recently a book, if not two books, on John Hampden; and I trust and
believe there will always be any number of books on John Milton.

Between them, one would suppose these books would pretty well cover the
whole ground that could be covered by a complete history. But, in fact,
as compared with a complete history, any number of them must still
remain incomplete. There is no conspectus of all these contrasted
characters, seen together in the light of the same mind or general
philosophy of history; and some of them naturally contradict each other
so flatly as to lead rather to confusion than conclusion. A man has some
reason for selecting the subject of another man; and the chances are
that his reason, even if perfectly reasonable, will be highly personal;
and sometimes personal to the point of being perverse. There is always a
possible association of a monograph with a monomania. And though many of
these books, and especially those I have mentioned, are filled with a
real sense of history which goes far beyond mere biography, in the sense
of mere gossip, these personal studies may easily involve a certain
amount of mere scandal; sometimes involving a temptation to mere
slander. Anyhow, either in the best examples or the worst, we can hardly
find in biography a substitute for history; or be completely satisfied
by looking at the program for the _dramatis personae_ as an alternative
to seeing the play.

I wonder nobody has ever written a History of the Histories of England.
The historians would themselves be characters in a very entertaining
play. Summaries of their treatment of the same subject would have
something of the unexpected variety of the versions of the same story in
Browning's experiment of _The Ring and the Book._ Anyhow, the historians
would be very vivid characters; some of them, to tell the truth, rather
comic characters. And we should possess a rather important outline of
the actual evolution of political thought or patriotic sentiment,
through periods which are none the less important to our national
destiny because nearly all of us have forgotten all about them. A very
good example of what would strike us as a new truth, merely by being a
neglected truth, can be found in the case of David Hume, when he wrote
as a historian and not as a philosopher. Huxley revived Hume as a
philosopher, in the days of his own fight for Agnosticism and quarrel
with Comtism, calling the Scotch sceptic "that prince of agnostics." But
I rather doubt whether Huxley would have bothered much about Hume as a
historian; for Huxley was very Victorian in many ways, including the
Victorian virtues. And, by his time, the whole Victorian world had
undergone a profound change in the whole attitude towards history; a
change that has rather falsified the whole perspective of the history of
history, even of history so recent as Hume's.

Macaulay, after all, was something of a magician, even if he was also
something of a cheap and popular conjurer. He was a romancer rather than
a liar; at the worst, he was a romancer as well as a liar. That is, he
was sincere in his enjoyment of romance, even where it departed furthest
from reality. And he did do what the poets can do, though it was said to
be what the gods themselves could not do. He did chance the past; he did
throw a retrospective glamour over the past of his own Puritan and
Parliamentary party; a light that looked like broad daylight, but which
had not really shone upon it in its own day. There was a case for the
Puritans; but it was a Puritan case. There is still a case for a few
fanatics who drink to the Immortal Memory of William of Orange, but it
is a fanatical case. It is ending very much as it began, and as it
continued to be up to the moment when the magic of Macaulay made it look
like mere practical politics or the religion of all sensible men. I mean
that, while there was a true enthusiasm in the seventeenth-century
sects, it was a sectarian enthusiasm. We may perfectly well sympathize
with the heroic virtue of a Brownite or the martyrdom of a Muggletonian,
but it must be as we sympathize with a dancing dervish or a wild prophet
in the wilderness; and that was about the best that the bulk of England
ever felt for the very best of the Puritans. The English, as the
English, thought about them as the Romans thought about the Zealots; as
the Rationalists thought about the Methodist preachers. One result of
this was that the common-sense--or, if you will, commonplace--opinion of
the country, for most of the time, was rather Royalist than Roundhead.
It was not in the least necessary to be a romantic Cavalier, an
old-world Jacobite, a High Churchman, or even a High Tory, in order to
be a Royalist. Again and again we find that a Rationalist was a
Royalist. Hobbes was a Rationalist, hating every trace and tradition of
the old religious sentiment. But Hobbes was a Royalist, in the sense
that his despotic theory of the State involved the implication of a
royal despot. Indeed, Hobbes was a Hitlerite, and his whole theory of
the Totalitarian State turns on a pivot of personal government. Hume was
a Rationalist; but in his History of England he was a Royalist.

The most famous or fashionable of the recent monographs is the
_Marlborough_ of Mr. Winston Churchill. The author has to sacrifice the
Whig historian to the Whig hero. I do not share Mr. Churchill's innocent
and child-like piety in the matter of his trust in Marlborough, but I
entirely share his distrust of Macaulay. But the matter in which
Macaulay has most falsified the past is that I have mentioned; the
fashion of supposing that the solid sense of the nation was solid for
the Puritans and the Parliament men, with nothing against it but a
chivalric but childish memory of the past. Down to very late indeed, it
was still the Roundhead who was the crank and the Cavalier who was the
regular guy. Dr. Johnson was a Jacobite suspected of being out in the
'45; but, right or wrong, he was a more solid and sensible sort of
Englishman than Horace Walpole worshipping the Regicides and the
death-warrant of Charles I. But the test is Hume. He would have seemed a
horrible atheist to the doctor; but he, too, was a Royalist; because he
seemed to himself a sensible man.

XXVI About Bad Comparisons

I have never quite understood the phrase that comparisons are odious;
but anybody can see that even the very best of comparisons is only
comparatively complimentary. A literal interpretation could turn most
compliments into insults. It would not do to treat the poet as a
botanist when he says "My love is like the red, red rose." There are
roses which would suggest rather too apoplectic a complexion and be
rough on the lady. There are ladies of whom we might say that it was
rough on the rose. The line in the modern version of "Annie Laurie,"
"Her neck is like the swan," always suggested to me a very startling and
somewhat alarming alteration in the human form; but I believe that this
line was a fake put in by the false modesty of somebody who was shocked
by the beautiful simplicity of the older version. But there is another
sense of the word "comparative" in which it is liable to another
somewhat parallel abuse or error. It is that grammatical classification
of a thing in the three degrees of positive, comparative, and
superlative; as illustrated in the bright little boy who gave the
extension of an adverb in the form of "Ill; worse; dead." It will be
noted that this, though founded on highly practical experience, is not
exact as an example of grammatical logic.

Now, there are a great many phrases used in practice as comparatives
which are not nearly so truly comparative as the triad of the little
boy. I mean that many people suppose one thing to be an extension of
another thing or an excess of another thing when it is really a totally
different thing; and sometimes almost a contrary thing. For instance,
some people have an instinctive itch of irritation against the word
"authority." Either they suppose that authority is a pompous name for
mere bullying, or else, at the best, they think that mere bullying is an
excess of authority. But bullying is almost the opposite of authority.
Tyranny is the opposite of authority. For authority simply means right;
and nothing is authoritative except what somebody has a right to do, and
therefore is right in doing. It often happens in this imperfect world
that he has the right to do it and not the power to do it. But he cannot
have a shred of authority if he merely has the power to do it and has
not the right to do it. If you think any form of mastery unjust, it is
enough to say that you do not like injustice; but there is no need to
say that you do not like authority. For injustice, as such, cannot have
any authority at all. Moreover, a man can only have authority by
admitting something better than himself; and the bully does not get his
claim from anybody but himself. It is not a question, therefore, of
there being authority, and then tyranny, which is too much authority;
for tyranny is no authority. Tyranny means too little authority; for
though, of course, an individual may use wrongly the power that may go
with it, he is in that act disloyal to the law of right, which should be
his own authority. To abuse authority is to attack authority. A
policeman is no longer a policeman when he is bribed privately to arrest
an innocent man; he is a private criminal. He is not exaggerating
authority; he is reducing it to nothing.

Another example of the false comparative, which is really not a
comparative but a contrary, is the distinction between avarice and
thrift. Here, again, it is of course possible for an individual to pass
from one to the other; but it is only by violating the other, not by
exaggerating it. The two things are really opposites; but things do
sometimes produce their opposites. Love may turn to hate; a man may
begin by wanting to marry a woman and end by wanting to murder her. But
love is none the less the opposite of hate; and even our most advanced
thinkers would hardly say that marriage is the same as murder. A man,
profligate in youth, may so poison himself as to become Puritan in old
age. But the reaction is none the less a reaction because it is a morbid
and exaggerated reaction. In the same way a thrifty man may turn into a
miser, but in turning into a miser he is ceasing to be a thrifty man. He
is most emphatically not becoming more of a thrifty man. A miser is a
man who is intercepted and misled in his pursuit of thrift and betrayed
into turning to the pursuit of money. Madness of that sort always haunts
the life of man, as a possible temptation and perversion. Idolatry is
always a danger to the soul, and idolatry is the worship of the
instrument. A man who thinks he is justified in drawing the sword for
justice may be tempted of the devil and come to worship not the justice
but the sword. That is what happened to poor Nietzsche, leading him to
write that sentence which is still the motto of Prussianism and Prussia:
"You say a good cause justifies any war; but I say a good war justifies
any cause." The peasant who follows the plough may fall into the same
temptation as the soldier who follows the sword; but both will be
turning against their original purpose, even against their own purpose
in using their own tools. For the peasant who thinks more of the
money-bags than he does of the flour-sacks becomes less of a peasant in
becoming more of a miser. And the real soldier does not follow the
sword, but follows the flag.

Thrift by derivation means thriving; and the miser is the man who does
not thrive. The whole meaning of thrift is making the most of
everything; and the miser does not make anything of anything. He is the
man in whom the process, from the seed to the crop, stops at the
intermediate mechanical stage of the money. He does not grow things to
feed men; not even to feed one man; not even to feed himself. The miser
is the man who starves himself, and everybody else, in order to worship
wealth in its dead form, as distinct from its living form. He is
occasionally found among peasants, as the bully is occasionally found
among soldiers. But in that very fact, the one is a bad peasant and the
other a bad soldier. In the rather morbid modern culture of the
industrial towns there has arisen a habit of denouncing both these two
types, as if they always yielded to these temptations. But the towns
also have their temptations; and the town critics have generally yielded
to all of them. They do not understand either the peasants' sense of
liberty or the soldiers' sense of loyalty; and they always assume that
there is nothing but avarice in the economic independence of the one,
and nothing but brutality in the militant obedience of the other. An
actual experience, either of peasants or of soldiers, will soon teach
anybody that the aberrations of avarice or arrogance are exceptional.
The general effect of discipline on decent soldiers is to make them very
pleasant companions and rather more modest and placable than the
majority of men. The actual effect of thrift on most peasants is to make
them inventive and intelligent in their ordinary hospitality and human
intercourse. There is no difference between them and other simple and
sociable human beings, except that they understand the rather important
thing which economists call "economy of consumption."

A French or Flemish peasant woman will make much more out of the scraps
in the kitchen, or the very weeds in the garden, than a proletarian will
make out of the tinned food and advertised wares of a commercial city.
But normally she will be quite as pleased, not to say proud, to put the
results of her cookery before other people as if she were presiding over
a fatigued cocktail-party in Mayfair. But the test of her pretensions,
of her pride--one might almost say of her profession--is concerned
entirely with the practical product. For the healthy-minded peasant,
more than for anybody, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. She
may become an unhealthy-minded peasant and think of nothing but the
money; for the diseases of the soul are in the very air. Therefore, it
will probably happen that every village will contain a miser--that is, a
madman. But his madness has nothing to do with the sanity of thrift.
Thrift in itself is always a thirst to make all things thrive, animal,
vegetable, or mineral; to make them prosper and produce; to prevent
their being wasted, or, in other words, destroyed. Whether particular
people need to be warned of particular dancers touching the avarice that
perverts thrift is a matter of moral education and religion; but the
first principle is that the miser is not a more thrifty man but a much
less thrifty man, for he wastes money more than a spendthrift.

XXVII About Change

This would be no place to inquire too closely why those bright youths
who are so superior to eternity seem to be so subject and submissive to
time; why they proclaim with such wild pagan gestures that they can pull
down the cross; but assure us, with such anxious and agitated motions,
that we cannot put back the clock. They seem to suppose that it is a
sort of new religion to worship the clock; and that without even
noticing that it is generally a grandfather's clock. For Time, whatever
else he is, is rather an old gentleman by now; his hour-glass is a very
antiquated sort of clock, and his scythe a rustic and archaic instrument
quite unworthy of an exhibition of agricultural machinery. In other
words, all this talk about things being suited to the times must, by its
very nature, have been uttered hundreds of times before. And any one who
listens in a meditative mood to the grandfather's clock will find it
difficult to say that there is so very much difference between one tick
and another; and may perhaps suspect that there was not quite so much
difference between one time and another. I am well aware that some have
hyphenated the name of Father Time, and that calling him Space-Time may
make him seem rather more spacious. But, for all that, there is a little
trick of logic, like a trick of clockwork, by which the young
philosopher is caught in time as in a trap. His own time closes on him
with a click; as in a creepy murder story I once read, in which a man
was caught and crushed in an old clock. For the fallacy which entraps
him is this: that he cannot apparently resist the temptation to base his
argument on the mere moment of time at which the argument takes place.

I have just read a very vivid short story about an aged _grande dame_ in
a country place and a young novelist whom she regarded as an upstart and
a revolutionist. I hold no brief for the old lady; I entirely decline to
become the grim and gaunt family solicitor who must certainly have been
attached to her aristocratic family. I think she must have been a
decidedly unpleasant old lady; and I think, as strongly as the strongest
of youthful novelists or revolutionists, that she was stupidly priding
herself upon the accident of birth. But what the young ass of a novelist
could not see, and what the author of that author also could not see,
was that he also was priding himself, and quite as stupidly, on the mere
accident of birth. For she was only proud of having been born in a
particular place; and he was only proud of having been born at a
particular time. For what he said, and all he could apparently say,
again and again and waving his arms about, was: "Your day is past; can't
you see that your day is past? To-day is ours; to-morrow is ours," and
so on; as repeatedly and relentlessly as the ticking of a clock. But
this does not affect, in the smallest degree, the actual question of
whether his day was worse or better than her day. If I advance the
thesis that the weather on Monday was better than the weather on Tuesday
(and there has not been much to choose between most Mondays and Tuesdays
of late), it is no answer to tell me that the time at which I happen to
say so is Tuesday evening, or possibly Wednesday morning.

It is vain for the most sanguine meteorologist to wave his arms about
and cry: "Monday is past; Mondays will return no more; Tuesday and
Wednesday are ours; you cannot put back the clock." I am perfectly
entitled to answer that the changing face of the clock does not alter
the recorded facts of the barometer. Doubtless, the old lady, when she
was a young lady, declared that the present and future were hers, and
that her aged aunt was very aged. But these pleasant and polite
comparisons do not make it impossible to establish objective historical
comparisons. And anybody is intellectually entitled to say, if he thinks
so, that there was better social weather on the old woman's Monday than
on the young man's Tuesday; or even on the quiet Sunday of the aged
aunt. I do not say so; anyhow not about that old woman; and, as
Archbishop Temple said, "I never knew her aunt." But to be rude and
contemptuous to the old woman, merely on the ground that she was old, is
even more unworthy of a philosopher than it is of a gentleman. And all
this assumption of the superiority of the advancing hours, based on the
accident of the hour that is passing, is in its nature unintelligent; in
the sense in which a gross error in mathematics is unintelligent. The
theory of progress may be argued; but it must be proved. It is necessary
to show that certain social stages are superior to previous social
stages on their own merits; and in many cases it may be possible to
prove it. In some cases it is certainly possible to disprove it. But it
is absurd for a young man to base his argument upon the mere fact that
he began to join in the discussion in the year 1930 instead of the year
1830. That is no more valid than the fact that he joined up with his
controversial companions at Turnham Green, when they had been arguing
all the way from Hammersmith. The one is a mere point in time; as the
other is a mere point in space; and each of them is as idle and
irrelevant as any tick of the clock.

Naturally, in this tale here taken as a text, the novelist regarded
himself as novel. But some study, even of the history of novelists,
would have shown him that there is no such simple issue between novelty
and antiquity. The novelist claims to be a realist; and he has as much
right to defend realism as other novelists had to defend romanticism.
But he is out by a thousand miles if he supposes that there has been a
general progress from romanticism to realism; or, indeed, from anything
to anything else. The great history of the great English novelists would
alone be enough to show that the story was never a pure story of
progress; but of rebellions and reactions; revolutions and
counter-revolutions. When England began to escape from a Puritanism
which forbade all romances, the great Richardson rejoiced in being able
to pour out floods of tears and tenderness about the most delicate forms
of love. When he had done it, the great Fielding rejoiced even more to
pour out floods of derision, believing that his coarse candour and
common sense was a part of enlightenment and liberty; though often
concerned with less delicate forms of love.

A generation later, the great Jane Austen confessed herself disgusted by
the coarseness even of Addison, and created a restrained comedy of which
half the humour is its deliberate decorum. Then we went on to Dickens
and Thackeray, the latter especially dismissing as barbarism what Swift
and Smollett had regarded as realism, and even as liberalism. Nothing is
now important about these great English novelists except that they were
all great. Nobody discusses whether they were all novel; yet each in
turn believed himself to be novel. Any one who goes by dates may find
himself defending brutality against Richardson or prudery against
Fielding. The worst argument in the world is a date. For it is actually
taking as fixed the one thing that we really know is fugitive and
staking all upon to-day at the moment when it is turning into yesterday.
The clock-worshipper has a heavy creed of predestination; and it is only
as the tavern closes that its priest cries aloud upon his god; saying,
like all the sad modern sages: "Time, gentlemen, time!"

XXVIII About the Workers

It is often said truly, though perhaps not often understood rightly,
that extremes meet. But the strange thing is that extremes meet, not so
much in being extraordinary, as in being dull. The country where the
East and the West are one is a very flat country. For such extremes are
generally extreme simplifications; and tend to a type of generalization
flattening out all real types, let alone real personalities. Two of the
dreariest things in the world, for instance, are the way in which the
snobs among the rich talk about the poor; and the way in which the prigs
who profess to have an economic cure for poverty themselves talk about
the poor. On the one side, we have the class of people who are always
talking about "the lower classes," thereby proving that they belong to a
class very much lower; a class so low that it almost deserves to be
called classy. It is sufficiently weak-minded to be proud; but this type
is generally merely purse-proud; and, as Thackeray said, "It admires
mean things meanly"; for example, it admires itself. To hear such people
talking about servants or about working men will be enough to send the
wise and good away with a wild impulse to make, if not a barricade, at
least a butter-slide. But, curiously enough, there is something that
produces almost exactly the same impression on my own feelings; and that
is the pedantic way in which all people who happen to be poor are
classified by some professors of Socialism or social reform; and even by
some who are supposed to be working-class representatives themselves.
Somehow they seem to talk about the Proletariat in exactly the same tone
of voice in which the wealthier snobs talk about the lower classes. Why,
for instance, is it never correct to call them "the workmen" or "the
working men" but always crushingly correct to call them "the workers"?
Somehow that word alone, and the ritual repetition of it, seems to
discolour and drain the whole subject of any human interest. To be a
workman is perhaps the noblest of all human functions; and I was
delighted the other day to hear a speaker describe Mr. Eric Gill, the
great sculptor, as "the first workman in the land." But the person
swallowed up in these sociological generalizations is no more the last
than the first. He is not a working man because he is not a man; he is
not any workman anybody has ever known; he is not the funny Irish
bricklayer you talked to when you were a little boy; he is not the
plumber or the mysterious plumber's mate; he is not the gardener, who
was rather cross; he is not the needy knife-grinder or the romantic
rat-catcher. He is The Workers; a vast grey horde of people, apparently
all exactly alike, like ants; who are always on the march somewhere;
presumably to the Ninth or Tenth International. And this de-humanizing
way of dealing with people who do most of the practical work on which we
depend, merely because they unfortunately have to do it for a wage, is
really quite as irritating to anybody with any real popular sympathies
as the ignorant contempt of the classes that are established and ought
to be educated. And both fail upon the simple point that the most
important thing about a workman is that he is a man; a particular sort
of biped; and that two of him are not a quadruped nor fifty of him a

These amusing but annoying habits are but the outer expression of a
social truth, which will grow more and more obviously true; but which
very few people of any political or social group have yet seen to be
true at all. Talking as if I were myself a wild Communist, the voice of
the rough and simple masses of the poor, and therefore using the longest
words I can and putting what I mean as pedantically and polysyllabically
as possible, I might state the matter thus. The sociology of
capitalistic industrialism began with an identification with
individualism; but its ultimate organization has corresponded to a
complete loss of individuality. So far so bad. But what is even worse,
the sort of constructive discontent in revolt against it, which is still
most common in the varieties of popular opinion, has itself inherited
and carried on this indifference to individuality. For Communism is the
child and heir of Capitalism; and the son would still greatly resemble
his father even if he had really killed him. Even if we had what is
called the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, there would be the same
mechanical monotony in dealing with the mob of Dictators as in dealing
with the mob of wage-slaves. There would be, in practice, exactly the
same sense of swarms of featureless human beings, swarms of human beings
who were hardly human, swarms coming out of a hive, whether to store or
to sting. And when I thought of that word, I suddenly realized why I so
intensely disliked the other words I have mentioned; for, now I come to
think of it, I believe there is one whole section of such insects that
is called "the workers."

Upon this similarity, generally called a conflict, between an industrial
order and an equally industrial revolution, is largely founded that
third thesis, on which I have sometimes touched in this place; the
insistence on true individualism instead of false individualism; the
distribution of private property to the individual citizens and
individual families. I am not now arguing about its political prospects
or economic effectiveness; though they are much more hopeful than most
modern people suppose. I am thinking of it merely in relation to the
sweeping criticism and the swarming crowd; the general tendency of
people at both extremes to simplify the problem either by contempt or by
pedantry. I mean that some of us think the Irish bricklayer might be
even funnier if he were as free as the Irish peasant; that if the
plumber always owned his own tools, he might sometimes neglect to leave
them behind; that though a man can be cross as well as contented with
his own garden, the fact of ownership itself tends on the whole to
contentment; and that even discontent of that sort does not mean that a
man is at once discontented and indistinguishable or invisible; or
reduced to making a vague noise out of the voices of many nameless men,
like the buzzing of bees in his back garden. For I do not believe that
any human being is fundamentally happier for being finally lost in a
crowd, even if it is called a crowd of comrades. I do not believe that
the humorous human vanities can have vanished quite so completely from
anybody as that; I think every man must desire more or less to figure as
a figure, and not merely as a moving landscape, even if it be a
landscape made of figures. I cannot believe that men are quite so
different that any of them want to be the same. I admit that the
beginning of men for the purposes of social protest may have some of the
justification of a just war. I even admit that the menace of such a war
may palliate the panic-stricken arrogance of some of the ignorant rich,
who do not know what the war is about. But I repeat that in both cases I
think that habit of dealing with men in the mass, not merely on abnormal
occasions, as in a war or a strike, but in normal circumstances and as a
part of ordinary social speech, is a very bad way of trying to
understand the human animal. There are only a few animals, and they are
not human animals, who can be best judged or best employed in packs or
herds. Some may compare the workers of a Communist state to a pack of
wolves; I should very strongly suspect that they bear more resemblance
to a flock of sheep. But neither of these animals can be said to have a
very complex or entertaining type of mentality; few of us would be eager
to listen, even if we could, to the flowing and continuous reminiscences
of a sheep; and St. Francis seems to have been the only man who was ever
on intimate terms with a wolf. It is precisely because man is the most
interesting of the creatures that he finds his proper place among those
creatures who dig a domestic hole or hang up an individual nest; and the
disgrace of our society is not when he has not a hive or an ant hill;
but when, among so many nests and holes, he has not where to lay his

XXIX About Education

I have dared to suggest that it would be rather a good thing if educated
Englishmen knew a little history. I am not worrying about uneducated
Englishmen. They do know a little history; a very little history,
perhaps, but genuine so far as it goes; they do remember what their
father and grandfather said; in what town or village they were born;
what was the tone of the society round them; and their testimony, so far
as it goes, is true. Any lawyer will tell you that uneducated witnesses
are much better than educated witnesses, because they have not been
elaborately educated to see what is not there. But it is a bad thing
that an educated man, trained to have a taste for many good things, such
as music or landscape, should know nothing of the songs of his fathers,
and should appreciate the landscape without appreciating the land. Now,
the nuisance of it is this: that if I say that people should be taught
history, I shall have the horrible appearance of presenting myself as a
historian. But that is almost the contrary of my contention. I only know
a very little history; and even that very little is enough to tell me
that much more important and powerful and successful persons than myself
know no history at all.

It is not a question of somebody being a scholar; it is a question of
something not being taught in the school. If I found that educated
people were not aware that there is any difference between addition and
subtraction, I should think myself justified in saying that something
had happened to arithmetic in the schools; but it would not imply that I
am a mathematician, which is absurd; still less that I could discuss the
higher mathematics with Professor Einstein. If I found my most
cultivated acquaintances alluding to Vienna as the capital of Spain, or
the Volga as the chief river of America, I should feel the geographical
studies had become a little vague; in spite of the fact that my own
knowledge of geography is very vague indeed. In short, an ordinary man
is only justified in complaining of the neglect of a subject when he
realizes that the schools neglect even the very little that he knows. He
may himself have had heavy and laborious difficulties even in mastering
the alphabet; but he still has the right to consider it rather odd that
people do know the alphabet of arithmetic and do not know the alphabet
of history. For the question concerns, in the most emphatic sense, the
alphabet of history; the elements of history; or what has been called,
in a famous title, the outline of history. I know nothing whatever about
electricity, except that it lights bulbs and rings bells, and does all
sorts of fantastic things round me, to which I do not happen to attach
much importance, as compared with candles or gongs. I know the name
comes from the ancient Greek word for amber; but I also know that its
modern use has been mainly modern. I mean that, until it was analysed
and utilized in the last few centuries by scientific men like Volta or
Galvani, few people appreciated the importance of electricity; except
those who had the brief but brilliant experience of being struck by
lightning. In other words, I mean that, though I know next to nothing
about electricity, I know something about the history of electricity,
since I know that, before Volta and the rest, it had no history at all.

Now compare that sort of rudimentary information possessed by one
ignorant Englishman about a branch of physics with the complete
ignorance of almost all Englishmen about a parallel point of history.
Millions of men who know much more about electricity than I do (and
nobody could know less) are at this moment convinced that
internationalism is a new ideal; and that this kind of ethics is as
recent as electricity--or, rather, as recent as electricians. Talk to
almost anybody in a train or a tram, and you will find he believes that
we all emerged out of savage separate tribes, and that the idea of
friendship with foreigners is part of a modern ideal of fraternity.
Perhaps he will vaguely suppose that the Communists were the first
Cosmopolitans; that nothing can link up nations but the Third or Fourth
or Fifth or Sixth international, and the alliance of the Proletarians Of
All Lands. But that is only a possibility; for the Communists are still
a small minority. But even if he is quite a mild and moderate citizen,
of the older parties, you will find he believes that national bigotry is
merely a thing of the past; or perhaps that international brotherhood
can only be a thing of the future. He will say it is due to the growth
of liberal ideas, which have widened the narrow sympathies of the nation
and the tribe. He may even hold that Mr. Wells invented the World State;
even if he has not exactly founded the World State. But, anyhow, he will
almost certainly believe, in one way or another, that going back into
the past means going back into more and more partisan patches of
patriotism; that the world began by being jingo and has gradually grown
more sympathetic with justice to the foreigner.

Now, that is a black-and-white blunder about the outline of history;
just as it would be a blunder to say that any prehistoric man was an
electrician if he was struck by a thunderbolt. It is completely and
colossally the contrary of the fact. Europe is now very national, and
some may say very narrow. But certainly it was once much less national
and much less narrow. Personally, I rather like nationalism; and I know
there are much worse things than narrowness. But I am talking about a
historical fact, a plain and primary historical fact; a fact that stands
in history exactly as addition and subtraction stand in arithmetic.
Nobody who does not know it knows the alphabet of our human history. The
fact is, of course, that a narrow nationality has grown steadily and
strongly for the last six hundred years; and European nations are much
more divided now than they were in the time of the Holy Roman Empire, to
say nothing of the Pagan Roman Empire. The French and English who fought
each other at Crecy were more like each other than the French and
English who supported each other at Mons. Our nationalities, whether
good or bad (and they are good enough for me) did in historical fact
emerge into separate existence out of a common cosmopolitan
civilization, dating from the days of the Caesars, and still recognized
in the days of the mediaeval Popes. Now, I am not arguing here about
what importance is to be attached to this historical fact; still less
about what deductions are to be drawn from it. I only say that the fact
is not popularly recognized as a fact like the fact of electricity. I
only say that I should be universally regarded as an idiot if I were
quite so ignorant of electricity as most of my countrymen are of

I think it rather important to press the point; because it is at this
moment a point of peril. Everybody is asking in a distracted fashion
whether the great nations can understand each other; and nearly
everybody is insisting that it must be an entirely new sort of
understanding. Now, it is surely not unimportant to point out that all
these great nations formed part of one common and completely united
civilization for about sixteen hundred years. I do not want them to fade
back into the pagan unity of the first century or the feudal unity of
the fourteenth. But if anybody says that they cannot find a unity, it is
not irrelevant to say that they did find it, for much more than a
thousand years. It is more hopeful to say that international brotherhood
was the whole historic background from which we came than to say that it
may or may not appear as an untried Utopia.

XXX About the Telephone

I read a chance phrase in a daily paper the other day; indeed, I had
read it in a great many other daily papers on a great many other days.
But it suddenly revealed to me the deep disagreement that divides most
modern people about the nature of progress; even those who are so
superficial as to imagine that they all agree. The sentence ran
something like this: "The time will come when communicating with the
remote stars will seem to us as ordinary as answering the telephone."

To which I answer, by way of a beginning: "Yes, that is what I object
to." Now, if you could say to me: "The time will come when answering the
telephone will seem to us as extraordinary as communicating with the
remote stars..." then I should admit that you were a real, hearty,
hopeful, encouraging progressive. Though a progressive, you would still
be a prophet; which some have considered to be a rather antiquated
trade. It would still be very arguable that a prophet is either a man
divinely inspired or a man who, by the nature of the case, is talking
about things he does not understand. But, assuming, for the sake of
argument, that a progressive can be sufficiently convinced and assured
to talk like a prophet, I should say that this prophet was really
prophesying the coming of the kingdom of heaven, and this progressive
was promising us a real and substantial progress. To tell us that we
shall find as much joy in a telephonic voice as we might find in a
starry vision--that would be a gospel in the very practical sense of
good news. But to tell us that we shall be as much bored by the stars as
we are by the telephone--that is not good news at all. It only means
that something which is still a sort of vague inspiration will become,
in due course, a very ordinary irritation. When the morning stars sing
together and the sons of God shout for joy, when the mightiest music of
the spheres reaches our earth as a new revelation of the depths and
heights of sound, we should not exactly wish that the starry choir
should cry in one united chorus: "Sorry you've been troubled." For in
that pathetic cry from the exchange, the tragedy of our human lot is
philosophically conceded. It is admitted, in the very words, that being
called upon to answer the telephone _is_ being troubled.

It is admitted, even by the official mind, that in this sense man is
born for trouble as the electric sparks fly upward, or wherever the
electric sparks may fly; it is even hinted, though perhaps mystically
and indirectly, that a life of peace, perfect peace, would be one in
which the telephone ceased from troubling and the subscribers were at
rest. But the truth goes deeper than any incidental irritations that
might arise from the mismanagement of the instrument; it implies some
degree of indifference even in the management of it. We are incessantly
told, indeed, that the modern scientific appliances, even those like the
telephone, which are now universally applied, are the miracles of man,
and the marvels of science, and the wonders of the new world. But though
the inventions are talked of in this way, they are not treated in this
way. Or, rather, if they are so talked of in theory, they are not so
talked of in practice. There has certainly been a rush of discovery, a
rapid series of inventions; and, in one sense, the activity is
marvellous and the rapidity might well look like magic. But it has been
a rapidity in things going stale; a rush downhill to the flat and dreary
world of the prosaic; a haste of marvellous things to lose their
marvellous character; a deluge of wonders to destroy wonder. This may be
the improvement of machinery, but it cannot possibly be the improvement
of man. And since it is not the improvement of man, it cannot possibly
be progress. Man is the creature that progress professes to improve; it
is not a race of wheels against wheels, or a wrestling match of engines
against engines. Improvement implies all that is commonly called
education; and education implies enlargement; and especially enlargement
of the imagination. It implies exactly that imaginative intensity of
appreciation which does not permit anything that might be vivid or
significant to become trivial or vulgar. If we have vulgarized
electricity on the earth, it is no answer to boast that, in a few years
more, we can vulgarize the stars in the sky.

Tell me that the bustling business man is struck rigid in prayer at the
mere sound of the telephone-bell, like the peasants of Millet at the
Angelus; tell me that he bows in reverence as he approaches the shrine
of the telephone-box; tell me even that he hails it with Pagan rather
than with Christian ritual, that he gives his ear to the receiver as to
an Oracle of Delphi, or thinks of the young lady on an office-stool at
the Exchange as of a priestess seated upon a tripod in a distant temple;
tell me even that he has an ordinary poetical appreciation of the idea
of that human voice coming across hills and valleys--as much
appreciation as men had about the horn of Roland or the shout of
Achilles--tell me that these scenes of adoration or agitation are common
in the commercial office on the receipt of a telephone call, and _then_
(upon the preliminary presumption that I believe a word you say), _then_
indeed I will follow your bustling business man and your bold,
scientific inventor to the conquest of new worlds and to the scaling of
the stars. For then I shall know that they really do find what they want
and understand what they find; I shall know that they do add new
experiences to our life and new powers and passions to our souls; that
they are like men finding new languages, or new arts, or new schools of
architecture. But all they can say, in the sort of passage I quoted, is
that they can invent things which are generally commonplace
conveniences, but very often commonplace inconveniences. And all that
they can boast, in answer to any intelligent criticism, is that they may
yet learn how to make the sun and moon and the everlasting heavens
equally commonplace, and probably equally inconvenient.

Let it be noted that this is _not,_ as is always loosely imagined, a
reaction against material science; or a regret for mechanical invention;
or a depreciation of telephones or telescopes or anything else. It is
exactly the other way. I am not depreciating telephones; I am
complaining that they are not appreciated. I am not attacking
inventions; I am attacking indifference to inventions. I only remark
that it is the same people who brag about them who are really
indifferent to them. I am not objecting to the statement that the
science of the modern world is wonderful; I am only objecting to the
modern world because it does not wonder at it. It is true that, in
connexion with certain other political or moral questions, I doubt
whether these mechanical tricks can be used as moral tests. But that has
nothing to do with the question of the dazzling brilliancy of the
conjuring trick, considered as a conjuring trick. Whether such a thing
is an ultimate social test is really a question of whether it is a
necessity or a luxury. And nobody ever doubted that a conjuring trick is
a luxury. The ideal of a peasantry, enunciated by a French king, that
there should always be a chicken in the pot, is doubtless different from
the ideal that there should always be a rabbit in the hat. But there is
no reason to doubt that the French king and the French peasant are
capable of enjoying the purely artistic and scientific pleasure of
seeing the rabbit rapidly and dexterously produced from the hat. Now I
may, and do, doubt whether there is very much purely _practical_
superiority in the extraordinary rabbit over the ordinary chicken. I
doubt whether great masses of men will get much more food off the
magical rabbit than greyhounds will get off the mechanical hare. I doubt
whether rabbit tastes any nicer out of the hat of a professor in evening
dress than out of the pot of a French peasant's wife who happens to know
how to cook it. In short, my doubts about modern materialistic machinery
are doubts about its ultimate utility in practice. But I never
questioned its poetry, its fantasy; the fitness of so sublime a
conjuring trick for a children's party. What I complain of is that the
modern children have forgotten how to shriek.

XXXI About the Films

The time has come to protest against certain very grave perils in the
cinema and the popular films. I do not mean the peril of immoral films,
but the peril of moral ones. I have, indeed, a definite objection to
immoral films, but it is becoming more and more difficult to discuss a
definite morality with people whose very immorality is indefinite. And,
for the rest, merely lowbrow films seem to me much more moral than many
of the highbrow ones. Mere slapstick pantomime, farces of comic collapse
and social topsy-turvydom, are, if anything, definitely good for the
soul. To see a banker or broker or prosperous business man running after
his hat, kicked out of his house, hurled from the top of a skyscraper,
hung by one leg to an aeroplane, put into a mangle, rolled out flat by a
steam-roller, or suffering any such changes of fortune, tends in itself
rather to edification; to a sense of the insecurity of earthly things
and the folly of that pride which is based on the accident of
prosperity. But the films of which I complain are not those in which
famous or fashionable persons become funny or undignified, but those in
which they become far too dignified and only unintentionally funny.

In this connexion, it is especially the educational film that threatens
to darken and weaken the human intelligence. I do not mean the
educational film in the technical or scientific sense; the presentation
of the definite details of some science or branch of study. In these
innocent matters, even education can do comparatively little harm to the
human brain. There are a number of really delightful films, for
instance, dealing with exploration and local aspects of biology or
botany. Nothing could be more charmingly fanciful than such natural
history; especially when its monsters seem to emulate the Snark or the
Jumblies, and become figures of unnatural history. But in that sort of
unnatural history there is nothing unnatural. The Loves of the Penguins
are doubtless as pure as the Loves of the Triangles; and to see a really
fine film in which an elephant playfully smashes up four or five
flourishing industrial towns or imperial outposts only realizes a
daydream already dear to every healthy human instinct. Where the real
peril begins to appear is not in natural history, but in history. It is
in the story of those talkative and inventive penguins of whom M.
Anatole France wrote in the tale of that terrible and incalculable
creature, who is so much more ruthless and devastating than the wildest
rogue elephant, since he does not destroy industrial cities, but builds

In short, it is in relation with the story of Man, the monster of all
monsters and the mystery of all mysteries, that our natural history may
become in the dangerous sense unnatural. And everybody knows that the
commonest way in which history can grow crooked, or become unnatural, is
through partisanship and prejudice, and the desire to draw too simple a
moral from only one side of the case. Now, it is just here that the most
successful films are in some danger of becoming actually
anti-educational, while largely professing to be educational. In this
connexion, it will be well to recall two or three determining facts of
the general situation of society and the arts to-day. The first fact to
realize is this: that only a little while ago the more thick-headed
prejudices of provincial history were beginning to wear a little thin.
Men would still take, as they were entitled to take, their own side
according to their own sympathies. But they were beginning to realize
that history consists of human beings, and not of heroes and villains
out of an old Adelphi melodrama. Whether men were for or against Queen
Elizabeth, they did begin to understand that she was something a little
more complex than Good Queen Bess; and that even her unfortunate sister
was in a situation not to be completely simplified by the use of a
popular expletive, as in Bloody Mary.

It began to be admitted that the great seventeenth-century struggle,
about whether England should be a Monarchy or an Aristocracy, could not
be used merely to prove that Cromwell was never anything but a saint or
Charles I never anything but a martyr. This great change for the good
was very largely connected with the passing of the old Two-Party System.
There had been a time when people were told to choose, not so much
between Gladstone and Disraeli, as between a popular figure who was not
Gladstone and another popular figure who was not Disraeli. The wary Old
Parliamentary Hand, with his Tory traditions of the Oxford Movement, was
represented as a wild, revolutionary idealist, everywhere demanding that
the heavens should fall, that some Utopian justice might be done. The
cynical cosmopolitan adventurer, with his romantic loyalty to Israel and
his open contempt for the common Conservative point of view, was praised
as a hearty English country gentleman, innocently interested in crops
which consisted chiefly of primroses. These fatuous electioneering
fictions were beginning to fade away; partly through a reaction towards
the rather acid Lytton Strachey biographies, partly through a more sane
and liberal historical interest in historical characters who really were
very interesting human beings. And then, when the truth was beginning to
pierce through in books, and even in newspapers, the whole light was
blotted out by a big, fashionable film, cunningly written and
brilliantly performed, in which Disraeli appeared once more as God's
Englishman covered with primroses and breathing the innocent patriotism
of our native fields.

The second fact to remember is a certain privilege almost analogous to
monopoly, which belongs of necessity to things like the theatre and the
cinema. In a sense more than the metaphorical, they fill the stage; they
dominate the scene; they create the landscape. That is why one need not
be Puritanical to insist on a somewhat stricter responsibility in all
sorts of play-acting than in the looser and less graphic matter of
literature. If a man is repelled by one book, he can shut it and open
another; but he cannot shut up a theatre in which he finds a show
repulsive, nor instantly order one of a thousand other theatres to suit
his taste. There are a limited number of theatres; and even to cinemas
there is some limit. Hence there is a real danger of historical
falsehood being popularized through the film, because there is not the
normal chance of one film being corrected by another film. When a book
appears displaying a doubtful portrait of Queen Elizabeth, it will
generally be found that about six other historical students are moved to
publish about six other versions of Queen Elizabeth at the same moment.
We can buy Mr. Belloc's book on Cromwell, and then Mr. Buchan's book on
Cromwell; and pay our money and take our choice. But few of us are in a
position to pay the money required to stage a complete and elaborately
presented alternative film-version of Disraeli. The fiction on the film,
the partisan version in the movie-play, will go uncontradicted and even
uncriticized, in a way in which few provocative books can really go
uncontradicted and uncriticized. There will be no opportunity of meeting
it on its own large battlefield of expansive scenario and multitudinous
repetition. And most of those who are affected by it will know or care
very little about its being brought to book by other critics and
critical methods. The very phrase I have casually used, "brought to
book," illustrates the point. A false film might be refuted in a hundred
books, without much affecting the million dupes who had never read the
books but only seen the film. The protest is worth making, because
provincial prejudice of this kind is frightfully dangerous in the
present international problem of the hour. It is perfectly natural for
nations to have a patriotic art, and even within reason a patriotic
education. It naturally teaches people, especially young people, to be
proud of the great heroes of their great history; and to conceive their
own past in a sort of poetic way like legends. But this is exactly where
we may test the difference between a legend and a lie. The outlines of a
real hero, like Nelson or Sarsfield, are not altered when the figure is
filled up, in maturer stages of knowledge, by the facts about failure or
weakness or limitation. The hero remains a hero; though the child, being
now grown up, knows that a hero is a man. But the figure of the
fictitious Beaconsfield will not support the intrusion of the real
Disraeli. It would be destroyed by all that was most interesting in
Disraeli; even by all that was most genuine in Disraeli. A dummy of that
sort does no good to national credit or glory; all foreigners laugh at
it, knowing more about it than we do; and we ourselves can only preserve
our solemnity by not going near enough to laugh. That is to make the
thing a mere "film" on the eyes of official obscurantism; and to give a
new secretive meaning to the title of "The Screen."

XXXII About Darwinism

Whatever else was evolved, evolution was not evolved. I mean evolution
as a part of education; as an idea more or less accepted for the last
forty years by most thinking people; and perhaps even more by most
unthinking people. Those who supported it were always talking about
growth and gradual change; but their own movement was not at all
gradual. They popularized an evolution that was far too much of a
revolution; that came with far too much of a rush; that became as the
phrase goes, all the rage; with some of its exponents rather
unmistakably raging. It was opposed to ideas of supernatural or even
special creation; but the theory itself was created in a very special
sense; and it was boomed and advertised like a miracle. Many of the
recent revolts and reactions and belated questionings have been due to
that original journalistic hustle; and yet they are themselves likely to
be treated in turn in too hustling and journalistic a fashion. Darwin's
individual industry was indeed minute and patient; and he was personally
the very reverse of an impetuous or impatient character. It is none the
less true that Darwinism was much too hastily thrust down everybody's
throat, including Darwin's. Old Huxley had all the passions of a
pamphleteer and a partisan; also he was individually and intensely
interested in certain ethical and philosophical attitudes of his own,
which Darwinism supported more perhaps than he himself would otherwise
have supported Darwinism. Huxley and Herbert Spencer really valued
Darwinism, as an argument for agnosticism. It would have been much
better if they had cultivated a little more agnosticism about Darwinism.

All the memoirs and memories of that time are full of that curious
atmosphere of brand-new prejudice and premature pugnacity. Popular
science loved to put the spotlight on special occasions; party combats
and particular challenges of particular champions. Everybody talked
about the repartee of Huxley to Wilberforce as something as theatrical
as a thunderbolt. Everything was supposed to stand or fall by a
particular debate between Huxley and Gladstone about the Gadarene Swine.
Nobody seems to have remarked on the fact that a theory like Darwinism,
advanced by a man like Darwin, was about the most unsuitable subject on
earth to be settled by a retort in a debating club. Nobody noticed that
Gladstone was about the worst person in the world either to teach a man
like Huxley the truths of theology or to detect in him the errors of
science. Humanity knew that Gladstone was an eloquent orator, and Huxley
said he was a copious shuffler; but he was neither a philosopher nor a
historian suited to deal with the theory of evidence of miracles. He was
simply the Prime Minister, past, present, or to come; and his appearance
on that platform only made it a fashionable occasion. That was what was
the matter with the whole occasion. Darwin became much too fashionable;
and Darwinism prevailed only as a fashion.

If the great biological speculations of the later nineteenth century had
remained speculative, they would have been much more slow and very much
more sure. We might by this time have really taken stock of what is
actually known about the variation of species and what can only be
plausibly guessed and what is quite random guesswork. Instead of that, a
hypothesis was allowed to harden into a habit of thought; and any
alternative hypothesis creates unnecessary excitement as a violent
paradox. A distinguished scientific man, in another branch of science,
has recently contradicted Darwinism with the same emphasis and eagerness
with which the Darwinians affirmed it. This is news in the newspapers,
but in this country we grossly exaggerate the extent to which it is new
in the scientific world. When Sir Arthur Keith and Mr. H. G. Wells tried
to treat Anti-Darwinism as an unheard-of paradox, Mr. Belloc had not the
least difficulty in naming fifty scientific men of the first rank,
throughout Europe, who were avowed Anti-Darwinians. And Sir Arthur Keith
could say nothing in reply, except that one out of the fifty, the
distinguished Professor Dwight, had never at any time accepted the
Darwinian hypothesis. The argument was, apparently, that Dwight could
not be right, because he had been right all the time. There is nothing
new about the purely scientific attack on the Darwinian theory; it began
very soon after the Darwinians advanced the theory. But the Darwinians
advanced it with so sweeping and hasty an intolerance that it is no
longer a question of one scientific theory being advanced against
another scientific theory. It is no longer a question of fairly
comparing what Darwin said with what Dwight said; indeed, it is not a
question at all. It is treated as an answer; and a final and infallible
answer. Now nobody need know any more than the mere rudiments of the
biological controversy in order to know that, touching twenty incidental
problems, it is in some ways a very unsatisfactory answer. This does not
necessarily mean that it was not valuable as a suggestion; or that it
may not help to suggest the real answer. Darwin did a mass of very fine
work, accumulated a multitude of facts, and set them in a certain light
by subjecting them to a general suggestion. Such work need not have been
thrown away if the thing had been treated in a reasonable manner. The
Victorian evolutionists were wrong; not because they opened the
evolutionary question, but because they closed it.

For the Victorian evolutionists were very Victorian indeed. They really
did deserve the sort of criticism which the realists of a younger
generation have brought against Victorian virtue or hypocrisy, in the
matter of closed doors. Yet the evil did not really come from hypocrisy;
it did really come from virtue. But it was virtue of a certain
Puritanical type; and especially of a political type. The men of whom
Thomas Huxley was the greatest were, above all, controversialists;
because they were, above all, moralists. They conducted their debates,
even their abstract scientific debates, in the spirit of a sort of
idealistic General Election. It was Darwin against Gladstone; just as it
was Disraeli against Gladstone. They were always going to the country,
appealing to the public, expecting an immediate decision of the whole
commonwealth, even on the most specialist speculations, as if they were
the most spiritual elements of right and wrong. Thus they identified
Free Trade with Freedom; insisting on it with an ethical simplicity
wholly inapplicable to an economic science. And so they identified
Natural Selection with Nature; with a dogmatic finality wholly
inapplicable to a biological science. The Darwinian Theory was the Dawn;
and any other shade of fact or fancy was only part of the opposing
darkness. We can see the difference in a flash if we merely compare
those great and grim grey-whiskered men with the Greeks or the men of
the Renaissance, when they speculated in a free-and-easy fashion about
some theory of the stars, or the flight of birds, or the movements of
the sea. The greater moral seriousness of the Victorians gave them all
the advantage that industry and conscientious record can give; but there
is a sense in which the scientific spirit was lost in the very triumphs
of the scientific age. They were so fond of having convictions that they
came prematurely to conclusions. Having grown doubtful about the things
on which conviction is most valuable, they then expected the speculative
imagination to answer as promptly and practically as the conscience. The
consequence was that they answered much too soon; and then yielded to
the temptation of all moralists, to veto any kind of answer to the
answer. Anyone who reads the account of how the orthodox officials of
Darwinism dealt with a real free-thinker like Samuel Butler will
recognize by unmistakable signs that the Darwinian free-thinkers were no
longer thinking freely; we might say they were no longer free to think.
The consequence is that, by this time, when that rigid and respectable
Victorian front door is suddenly burst open, it has the effect of a
resurrection or the rending of a tomb. But there is no need for such
excitement; and it is quite possible that the reaction following such a
resurrection may go too far. It will be worse still if the world is
again converted without being convinced.

XXXIII About Shockers

It is well that students sternly devoted to that science should issue
bulletins, from time to time, upon the state of the Detective Story; the
stage it has recently reached in its present alleged progress or
decline. Some hold that the possibilities of the detective story will
soon be exhausted. They take the view that there are only a limited
number of ways of murdering a man, or only a limited number of men who
might plausibly and reasonably be murdered. But surely this is to take
too gloomy and pessimistic a view of the case. Some hold that the
detective story will, indeed, progress and evolve, but it will evolve
into something else; and I always think that sort of evolution is a form
of extinction. They seem to think that it will become so good that it
will cease to exist; will die of sheer goodness, like the little
choir-boy. What used to be called the police novel will expand into the
novel where the problems are too subtle to be solved by calling in the
police. For my part, as a matter of taste, I can do very well without
the police; but I cannot do without the criminals. And if modern writers
are going to ignore the existence of crime, as so many of them already
ignore the existence of sin, then modern writing will get duller than

Here, however, my only duty, as a dry recorder of scientific facts, is
to note a few of the recent changes in the police novel, which do
roughly correspond to changes in the social history of our time. I shall
also venture, in my capacity of earnest ethical adviser to the young
student of blood and thunder, to point out some dangers and
disadvantages in these new forms and fashions in crime. For, though
modern society has given us in some ways a wider range, and provided us
with varieties of incident or implement not known to our fathers and
mothers, and all the other simple and homely assassins of our
childhood's days, yet this enlargement and variety is not an unmixed
advantage for the artist in murder. There are several ways, in this as
in other arts of life, in which the modern appearance of liberty is very
misleading. Many a happy family, innocently priding itself on an uncle
who was hanged in the quiet old Victorian days, would, in fact, find
that their relative's career made a much better story, considered as a
story, than some of these larger and looser studies of loose living,
where there are so many new vices to cover the track of ancient crime.

I would therefore lay down this canon first of all: that the people in a
really gory murder mystery should be good people. Even the man who is
really gory should be good, or should have a convincing appearance of
being good. Now, many of the very best of the modern writers in this
style have partly failed through neglecting this maxim. They start out
with another maxim, which is also in itself a perfectly sound maxim.
They start out with the very reasonable idea of giving the reader a wide
choice of suspects, that the imagination may hover long over them all
before it swoops (if it ever does swoop) upon the really guilty person.
Unfortunately, it is exactly here that the laxity of modern manners, not
to say morals, actually comes in to spoil the effect. The writer begins
with somebody doing what (I believe) is known as throwing a party; as a
preliminary to the more private act of throwing another party, in the
sense of another person, out of a window or down a well. The whole
business begins in a rather heated atmosphere of cocktails, with
occasional whiffs of cocaine. And the charming freedom and variety of
such a social set, in these days, enables the author to crowd the room
with all sorts of people who, in the older story, could only have
escaped from Dartmoor or returned by ticket-of-leave from Botany Bay.
The chief ornaments of these aristocratic salons are conspicuous, not
merely by being cads, but by having every appearance of being criminals.
In short, the suspects are so very suspect that we might safely call
them guilty; not necessarily of the crime under discussion, but only of
about half a hundred others.

But there is an obvious snag in this convenient way of spreading
suspicion over a number of characters. It can be put in a word: such
cases may cause suspicion, but they cannot cause surprise. It is the
business of a shocker to produce a shock. But these modern characters
are much too shocking ever to produce a shock. These dubious dopers,
these suspected dope-traffickers, these alleged or half-alleged heroes
of horrible scandals in the past--all these livers of the wild life have
one inevitable touch of tameness. They all have one element that must
make any ending of the story tame. And that is, that no reader would be
even mildly astonished to learn that any one of them, or all of them,
had committed the crime. It is true that, in some of the very best
recent _romans policiers,_ this rout of rather bestial revellers is
often introduced, not in order to convict any of them, but to distract
attention from some seemingly conventional person who is ultimately
convicted. But the method is wrong, even at the best; a hint of guilt
should be thrilling; but there is nothing particularly thrilling about
the safe bet that some of these social ornaments are capable of being
thieves or thugs. If what we want is a thrill, the thrill could only be
found in the virtuous Victorian household, when it was first realized
that Grandmama's throat had been cut by the curate or by the rather too
well-behaved nursery-governess. Even the love of murder stories, like
other moral and religious tendencies, will lead us back to home and the
simple life.

I think there is another weak point, which is the worst thing even in
the best shockers. This also is connected with some recent social
changes; as with the scientific fashion of Psychoanalysis, which is
generally more of a fashion than a science. It is also connected with a
certain mechanical or materialistic interpretation of human interests,
which often goes along with it. I mean the expedient of distracting
attention from the real criminal by suspecting him at the beginning and
not merely at the end. It generally takes the form of some apparent
conviction or confession, first dismissed as impossible, and finally
found, by some unsuspected ingenuity, to have been possible after all.
Often the first accusation is dismissed by some of the dogmas of the new
psychology. The curate, let us say, confesses that he jumped over an
incredibly high wall to murder the grandmother; and the professor of
psychology (with the piercing eyes) points out that a theological
training had repressed instead of liberated the _libido_ of the curate
in the direction of trespass and burglary. He had dreamed he jumped over
a high wall; or perhaps the height symbolized levitation and ascending
into heaven; it is an accommodating science. Then when we think that the
curate is cleared and out of it, we are relieved to find in the last
chapter that he is the criminal after all; both he and the author having
concealed up to this moment the fact that the curate held the
International Championship for the High Jump, and had concealed a
jumping-pole among the poles used for the punt.

This method, again, has every quality of ingenuity, and pursues the
highly legitimate aim of shifting the spot light from the guilty to the
innocent. And yet I think that it fails, and that there is a reason for
its failure. The error is the materialistic error; the mistake of
supposing that our interest in the plot is mechanical, when it is really
moral. But art is never unmoral, though it is sometimes immoral; that
is, moral with the wrong morality. The only thrill, even of a common
thriller, is concerned somehow with the conscience and the will; it
involves finding out that men are worse or better than they seem, and
that by their own choice. Therefore, there can never be quite so much
excitement over the mere mechanical truth of how a man managed to do
something difficult as over the mere fact that he wanted to do it. In
these cases we have already considered the criminal as a criminal; we
are only asked to consider him anew as a cracksman or crafty and clever
criminal. The effect of this is always a sort of bathos; an anticlimax.
I say it with regret, for it figures in some of the finest mystery
stories I know. But, even if the book is of the best, it always makes me
feel that the last page is the worst; when the last page should be the
best of all.

I notice a curiously modern and sullen realism beginning to settle on
some of the recognized tales of murder, once so gay, innocent, and
refreshing. Once our detective art really was almost an unmoral art; and
therefore the one which managed to remain almost a moral art. But shades
of the prison-house--or, worse still, of the humane reformatory and the
psychological clinic--begin to close upon the growing boy and the
hopeful butcher of his kind. We are given detailed descriptions of
depressing domestic interiors, as if being dumbly asked whether a wife
so involved in the washing or the dusting or the spring-cleaning was not
eventually bound to murder or be murdered in any case. It is all very
well, but I would point out to the sanguinary sophist that the argument
can be turned the other way. If it be true that a misguided wife may
begin thoughtlessly by doing the washing, and find all sorts of
vexatious consequences, possibly including death by violence, so it is
equally true that she may begin by using murder as a minor gadget in the
domestic machinery, taking death by violence in her stride as a plain,
practical solution; and then, after all, find herself involved in a most
inordinate amount of washing.

There could not be a grimmer example of this tragedy than poor Lady
Macbeth. She had her faults, perhaps, but there is no ground for
accusing her of any rooted or aboriginal taste for hygiene. When she was
young and innocent, her imagination seems to have been quite unpolluted
by the impure image of soap. I should even hesitate to accuse her of
spring-cleaning in the serious, anti-social, and sinful sense of the
term. Anyhow, a number of very different birds seem to have nested
undisturbed over the main entrance to the reception-rooms; which looks
as if she was once a human being, and more interested in spring-broods
than in spring-cleaning. Unfortunately, like such a very large number of
people living in dark, barbarous, ignorant, and ferocious times, she was
full of modern ideas. She intended especially to maintain the two
brightest and most philosophical of modern ideas; first, that it is
often extremely convenient to do what is wrong; and second, that
whenever it is convenient to do what is wrong, it immediately becomes
what is right. Illuminated by these two scientific search-lights of the
twentieth century in her groping among the stark trees and stone pillars
of the Dark Ages, Lady Macbeth thought it quite simple and business-like
to kill an old gentleman of very little survival value, and offer her
own talents to the world in the capacity of Queen. It seems natural
enough; to most of us who are used to the morals of modern novels, it
will seem almost humdrum and tiresomely obvious. And yet see what a snag
there was in it after all!

On this one doomed and devoted woman, who had done nothing but a little
bit of a murder which she thought little enough of at the time (as De
Quincey says), there fell from heaven like the Deluge the deathly curse
of Cleanliness. She, who seems never to have known such morbidities
before, was tortured with horrid suggestions of washing her hands, and
pursued by furies who seem to have taken the form of modern salesmen
offering different brands of soap. Those ambitions of the housewife,
which seem to the modern moralist so obvious a cause of murder, were, in
fact, wildly exaggerated in her case as a consequence of murder. It was
the worst doom of the murderess that she wanted to do the washing, not
on Monday, but at midnight; that she wanted to have a spring-cleaning,
not in the spring of the year, but in the middle of the night. Who shall
say lightly that a murder or two does not matter, when it may lead to
the murderess becoming as hygienic as all that?

Sinister minds may be clouded by dark and unworthy suspicions that the
views here discussed are not wholly serious; but some of the modern
moralists favouring murder and other simple solutions of social
difficulties are serious with a dry-throated earnestness that no satire
could simulate. And even my own lighted prejudices on the negative side
are not without spasms of sincerity. I certainly do not like that
Religion of Ablutions which has always really been the Religion of
Pharisees; even when it masqueraded as the Religion of Anglo-Saxons or
the Religion of Muscular Christians. I made fun of it when it was
blindly worshipped, though I have lived to see it too blindly and
sweepingly derided, as the Religion of Pukka Sahibs or the Religion of
Public School Men. And I know that in its domestic form it can sometimes
produce a Puritanism that is very close indeed to Pharisaism. But I
should still regard it rather as a symptom of social evil than as a
necessary cause of social crime. Miss Miggs will sometimes make almost
as much fuss about a spot of grease as Lady Macbeth about a spot of
blood. But to infer from this that we are bound to murder Miss Miggs,
and that Lady Macbeth was bound to murder Duncan, and that everybody is
bound to murder everybody whom he happens to find troublesome for any
reason for any considerable length of time--that is one of the dubious
and creeping deductions which are beginning to appear, more or less
tentatively, in many of the tragedies published in our time; and I
should like to protest against all such savage fatalism, before it
becomes more explicit. It is, of course, only the logical consequence,
as applied to the problem of murder, of what is now everywhere applied
to the problem of marriage. It is the theory that there is no such thing
as an intolerable solution of a problem, but only an intolerable
acceptance of a problem. It is the theory that nothing can possibly be
unendurable except having to endure. It is interesting to see how
rapidly and quietly the same ethical spirit is already beginning to work
in other fields of thought. It does really seem to me far less fantastic
to say that a mania for washing was a mild and merciful punishment for
murder than to say that murder is a just and reasonable punishment for a
mania for washing. But, in any case, I protest against that arbitrary
gesture of self-ablution and self-absolution with which some characters
in modern stories conclude the confession of their crimes; like that
weak tyrant who tried to combine the contraries of despotism and
irresponsibility by washing his hands when he had delivered the innocent
to death.

XXXIV About Beggars and Soldiers

It amuses me to think that, amid all the invocations of Christmas and
invocations to Christmas charity, I am probably in a minority in
uttering any particular and positive eulogy of Christmas waits. It is
common enough to celebrate the jovial season by making jokes about
Christmas waits, but they are generally in the same vein as the jokes
about Christmas bills. It is constantly said in the newspapers (and
therefore it must be true) that we have everywhere increased in social
sympathies and sentiments of human brotherhood, and it is sometimes even
said that all classes are drawing together in mutual understanding. I am
sure I hope it may be so; and indeed I think that in certain special
social aspects it is so. But I notice that, in many houses where a
previous generation accepted waits and carol-singers, even if they
grumbled at them in secret, with all the external courtesy and
resignation of Duke Theseus listening to the play of Pyramus and Thisbe
in _A Midsummer Night's Dream,_ many of a later generation have grown
less patient and less polite. I also notice that, over vast districts of
the modern urban civilization, whole streets are plastered with placards
forbidding hawkers and street cries; lest the ancient institution of the
pedlar or the last of the old music of London should disturb those
within who are intently occupied, let us hope, in studying books on
evolutionary ethics by Cambridge economists, which demonstrate so
radiantly the need of social contacts and the removal of all barriers
between class and class. Having read a vast number of books of that sort
in my time, I am still not entirely satisfied that, in every respect,
they are invariably more human and amusing than the talk of Autolycus or
the tune of "Cherry-Ripe."

But there is a special case for carol-singers, because they come at a
time when our whole tradition has always told us to be charitable to
strangers, even to beggars. Of course, carol-singers are not in any
sense whatever beggars. They are people offering something in return for
money; we may not happen to think it is worth the money, and I happen to
think exactly the same of about three-quarters of the things that are
most boomed and pushed in the modern business market. But in so far as
many of us do pay for the entertainment, even when we do not
particularly want the entertainment, and do it from motives of charity,
the waits or carol-singers can in that sense be put into the same class
as beggars, and sink instantly to the abject and degraded condition of
Homer or St. Francis of Assisi. And it is about this problem of beggars,
or of those who in one aspect are in the position of beggars, that I am
disposed to raise a very general question and remark on a general

I happen myself to represent, more or less, a general moral philosophy
which until very lately was the general moral philosophy of most nations
and even most confessions in Europe. And in nothing was that general
tradition of our fathers more criticized by our contemporaries than in
its alleged contentment with casual and sporadic charity; or, in other
words, the habit of giving money to beggars. Now, there is a rather
interesting parallel here, between the nineteenth-century attitude
towards the problem of the beggar and the twentieth-century attitude
towards the problem of the soldier. Only too often, and to the deep
disgrace of governments, they were the same individuals. There was a
beggars' rhyme in my boyhood that ran: "Here comes a poor soldier from
Botany Bay; What have you got to give him to-day?" In the eyes of many
modern scientific humanitarians and philanthropists (who certainly would
have nothing to give him), he would be blasted with a sort of series and
crescendo of crimes; horrible because he was a beggar; horrible because
he was a convict, from Botany Bay or any other convict settlement; and
most horrible of all because he was a soldier. But both in his character
of a beggar and his character of a soldier he offers an opportunity for
explaining a certain old-fashioned point of view, which I fancy the
majority of modern people do not understand at all.

Those modern people who, much more than any ancient people, have refused
and repulsed beggars as such were not merely brutal or stingy. The thing
was perhaps at its worst in the blackest time of industrial
individualism, when even the theories were brutal and stingy; we might
almost say, in some cases, that the ideals were brutal and stingy. But
this would be unjust to a very large number of the theorists and
idealists who really did believe in plausible theories and ideals. The
first theory that held the field was something like this: that it was
uneconomic and therefore unethical to patch up the position of people
who were in the wrong position and even in the wrong place. The theory
was that such a person could eventually find his place when the whole
economic community could find its level, and each person was achieving
the cheapest production at the proper profit or price. The ideal,
however vague, was that of a community in which everybody was living
productively and profitably, and nobody was living unproductively and
unprofitably. Given that ideal, or any real belief in that ideal, it is
not difficult to see that the beggar appears an anomaly that ought to
disappear. Unfortunately, the ideal has disappeared and the beggar has
remained. Nobody now believes that mere individualism and competition
will ever, of themselves, work out to that economic paradise of give and
take. The death of that delusion was hastened by the Socialists. And
whatever be wrong with Socialism, it was entirely right about what is
wrong with Individualism. But the Socialist, quite as much as the
Individualist, necessarily and naturally regarded the beggar as an
anomaly to be abolished. His way of abolishing him was to plan out a
series of Utopias in which the State would find everybody the best work
and pay everybody the best wages. I am not criticizing those Utopias
just now, or rather I am only criticizing them on one small point. So
far as this argument goes there is nothing against them, except that
they have not happened. Even among the Bolshevists, where something
happened, it was not the abolition of beggary, whether this was the
fault of the Bolshevists or no. A rich man in the Ukraine famine would
be faced with just the same problem of beggars as a rich man in the
Irish famine. Now, when one theory after another thus rises and falls,
and one Utopian promise after another is made and broken, is it not
comprehensible that some of us think it well to save even a solitary man
from starvation, while the world is making up its mind how many
centuries it will take for starvation to disappear?

As I have hinted, there is something of the same notion in tolerating
the soldier as in tolerating the beggar. Nobody wants anybody to beg or
anybody to fight. But when promise after promise of universal peace is
broken, and conference after conference abandons the task of
establishing international justice, is it so very odd that some people
should still want something to defend national justice, in the sense of
justice to their own nation? And if the beggar and the soldier seem to
remain, _since_ they seem to remain--then I do most strongly feel that
it is better that they should not be regarded merely as blots or pests,
but rather in the light of the traditional virtues associated with the
tragedy; the one in the light of charity and the other of chivalry. I do
not expect every one, or possibly even any one, to agree entirely with
this view, but I hope that somebody will at least accept the compromise
in the case of Carol-Singers or Waits.

XXXV About Sacrifice

The world has not yet had the happiness of reading my great forthcoming
work, _The Case for Human Sacrifice,_ or _Moloch the Modern World's
Hope,_ in nine volumes, with plates and diagrams illustrating all the
advantages of Ritual Murder, and the religious side of cannibalism. It
is even possible, alas! that the reader will never have the rapture of
reading this great scientific monograph; for I have a great many other
jobs on hand, in the distraction and excitement of which it is possible
that my first fiery and youthful enthusiasm for Human Sacrifice may have
somewhat faded, with the passage of years and the consolidation of more
moderate convictions. But though I doubt whether I could, by this time,
bring myself to sacrifice a baby to Moloch, and though my first boyish
impatience at the tame compromise adopted in the cases of Isaac and
Iphigenia has long died away, I still think Human Sacrifice is
infinitely more decent and dignified than some scientific operations
proposed at the present time. At least Human Sacrifice is human; a great
deal more human than humanitarianism. And when modern medical men
gravely get up and propose that human beings should be put in lethal
chambers, when there is any reason to fancy that they are tired of life,
I am still (relatively) prepared to cry: "Give me Moloch and the

First consider the fundamental point: that the pagan altar at least
treated a man's life as something valuable, while the lethal chamber
treats a man's life as something valueless. A man's life was offered to
the gods because it was valuable; more valuable than the best bull or
the finest ram, or the choice things from the flocks and herds which
were always chosen because they were choice. But the moderns, who do not
believe in the existence of gods, tend at last not to believe even in
the existence of men. Being scientific evolutionists, they cannot tell
the difference between a man and a sheep. And being highly civilized
townsmen, they would probably be very bad judges of the difference
between a good sheep and a bad one. Therefore, there is in their
sacrificial operations a sort of scornful and indifferent quality
contrary to the idea of sacrifice, even at its blackest and bloodiest.
They are always talking about eliminating the unfit, getting rid of the
surplus population, segregating the feeble-minded, or destroying the
hopeless; and this gives all their work a character of contempt. Now, in
the very vilest blood-rites of barbarians, there may have been cruelty,
but there was not contempt. To have your throat cut before an ugly stone
idol was a compliment; though perhaps a compliment that you would have
politely disclaimed and waved away.

It would have implied that you were, in the words of the old feudal
custom of rent, the Best Beast. And however beastly you might think the
people around you, and their religious views and liturgical habits,
there would be some satisfaction in being the best beast among them.
Human Sacrifice had this great though fallen splendour clinging about
it; that at least it was the very contrary of the Survival of the
Fittest. Like all the deaths of the martyrs and the heroes, it was the
Surrender of the Fittest. The scientific destroyers necessarily talk in
the opposite terms and spread the opposite tone. They sacrifice the
black sheep of the flock; the mad bull of the herd; the unfortunates of
the human community whom they choose to regard as mad or merely as
weak-minded. They do not merely kill, but annihilate; not only in the
sense of reducing people to nothing, but even of regarding them as
nobodies. The sacrificial victim was always regarded as something; he
was even respected as somebody. The victim was often a princess whose
beauty was admired, or a great enemy whose courage was envied. Some have
said that the latter was the origin of cannibalism; in which case it
would be quite a handsome compliment to be cooked and eaten; and
something of a snub or sneer, to any sensitively constituted gentleman,
to be spared and left alive. The reader may be relieved to learn,
however, that I do not really recommend the inclusion of cannibalism and
human sacrifice among the ritualistic innovations of the Advanced School
in the Church.

The truth remains, however, even in the literal and Latin meaning of
sacrifice. It means to make a thing sacred; or, in this case, to make a
man sacred. And to make him sacred is to make him separate; something
set apart, and not to be confused with flocks and herds and the beasts
that perish. Now the opposite evil, as it exists in so much scientific
philanthropy, is the tendency to deal with men in herds; to treat them
like sheep; and not only to class them with the beasts that perish but
to take particular care that they do perish. And this is tyranny of a
new kind, as compared even with the old despotic execution, let alone
the old hieratic sacrifice. Even the public executions, now
conventionally condemned, had this sort of wild justice about them: that
they did not deprive the chief actor of the limelight. But the new
death-ray of scientific destruction would not pick out personalities and
individuals as does the limelight. And there is danger that the very
fact of dealing with lives that are supposed to be futile or featureless
or merely uncomfortable and unpleasant, instead of with great crimes or
blasphemies, may bring into the business a spirit which is worse than
merely cruel; because it is merely callous.

It is a favourite joke among the more solemn historians that
Robespierre, credited or discredited with the guillotining of thousands
of enemies of his own theory, actually began his political life with an
argument for the abolition of Capital Punishment. It is less often
noticed, though it is really a better joke, that he used the only really
good argument for the abolition of Capital Punishment. He said: "Every
time you kill a man by law, you diminish something of the sacredness of
Man." But human sacrifice, whatever its other little weaknesses, did not
diminish anything of the sacredness of Man. From the point of view of
that particular pagan heresy, it even increased the sacredness of Man.
For it was founded on the opposite principle, that the best thing must
be sacrificed or made sacred. And though this particular form of the
sentiment is barbarous and benighted, and in moral practice abominable,
the sentiment itself is one which ought to be understood better than it
is in what is commonly called an age of enlightenment. Unfortunately,
the enlightened are also benighted. They never seem to throw any light
on these most mysterious and interesting parts of the nature and history
of Man; and since they cannot understand the idea in its highest and
purest manifestations, it is natural that they should be merely puzzled
by it in its basest and most brutal. But a huge part of human history
will remain permanently unintelligible to those who cannot even
entertain this idea: the idea of giving up a thing not because it is
bad, but because it is good.

Speaking seriously, of course, most human sacrifice tends to be inhuman,
because it tends to be diabolist. The line is not always drawn at first,
or drawn easily, between a somewhat dark and ruthless deity and an
actual demon. But one thing at least we may learn from the real history
of the world, and that is how to avoid a blunder made by more than half
the histories in the world. Whatever else is true, it is not true that
blood-rites belong entirely to prehistoric or even primitive peoples.
The progressive historians, of a school no longer very obviously
progressing, did their very best to hint and imply that complex
civilization is a complete safeguard against unnatural creeds or cruel
ceremonies. It is nothing of the kind. Some of the most civilized and
highly organized cultures, like Carthage at its wealthiest, had human
sacrifice at its worst. Culture, like science, is no protection against
demons. And poor Robespierre was nearer the truth than the later
progressives when he said that there was no protection for the
commonwealth but Virtue and the Worship of God.

XXXVI About Royal Weddings

I may explain that I am one of the people who really like weddings. Or,
rather, to speak more strictly, I am one of the few people who admit,
and even boast, that they like weddings. If I took quite simply and
seriously the testimony of a long succession of individuals whom I have
met, and with whom I have conversed on the topic, I should be bound to
deduce that they all of them detest weddings. They always describe them
as orgies of futility and fatigue; as occasions of flaunting vulgarity
or sickly sentimentalism; as crushes and crowds of stuffy relations,
made more insupportable by the intolerable presence of priests or
parsons in churches or chapels; for it is generally agreed that having
to have parsons is an even more horrible calamity than the horror of
having any relations. In short, it may logically and definitely be
deduced that most human beings abhor and repudiate weddings, especially
these important weddings; which is why the church is always crowded to
the roof with a mob big enough to burst all the doors and windows.

In fact, I have noticed that the person who claims to hate weddings is
generally the person who makes them hateful. It is precisely the sort of
lady who stands on a chair to count the duchesses, or talks in a loud
voice about who might have married whom, who eventually staggers out of
the crowd, laden with snapshots of all the wealthiest people and
autographs of all the more vulgar celebrities, to cry aloud in utter
weariness how much she loathes weddings. But all these loathsome things,
including the lady herself, are not a wedding. When I say I like a
wedding, I do not mean that I like what interrupts a wedding, stifles a
wedding, obscures all sight or sound of a wedding, or distracts
everybody's mind from the very idea of a wedding. I mean I like the idea
of a wedding. This will be quite enough of a paradox for my fiendish
critics to digest. The actual words of the Anglican Marriage Service,
for instance, seem to me to be a triumph of the English tongue at least
as great as anything in Milton or Shakespeare; and it can be said of
them more than of most poems and even great poems that to any one who
can feel them they are always fresh and even surprising. And they deal
with things that have nothing whatever to do with the paltry frivolities
or passing fashions of our particular state of society; which (let us
hope) is passing too. They are really worthy to have been spoken over
Adam and Eve, in a voice that breathes o'er Eden, not merely in a
breath, but a thunder-clap.

Next, we may consider the aspect of one recent special occasion, in the
sense in which it is quite truly called a historic occasion. The old
forms of heraldry and chivalry, the ancient emblems of feudal or
dynastic dedication, the varied colours of nationality, or the
tremendous traditions of religion, which are by custom resurrected in
such a ritual, are not merely false or merely futile things. They are
generally a more genuine record of history than we find in the books of
history; and certainly not so false, and not so futile, as the sort of
journalistic history which is now popularized by the prigs who are the
only educators of our uneducated plutocracy. They represent, of course,
particular traditions and not the whole truth, particular loyalties and
not all to which men should be loyal. But they represent them correctly
and historically, and as they really were. They represent them much more
truly than they are represented in the cheap educational works now so
widely advertised, in which it is suggested that popular monarchies must
have been unpopular because they had monarchs; or that ancient
priesthoods must have been indefensible, because they defended
themselves long enough to be called ancient. We hear a great deal in the
historical world about the necessity of consulting contemporary
documents. It is not sufficiently remembered that every costume or
coat-of-arms, every flag or escutcheon, always is a contemporary
document. Education itself might be educated, the happiest yet most
helpless dream of our time, if people would only learn so much as the
real history of a few uniforms or liveries.

Or again, the international aspect of such an occasion ought to interest
any man who is, as every man obviously ought to be, both an
internationalist and a nationalist. The fact that the bride represented
the Royal House of Greece is alone enough to bring us back to a more
liberal interest in Europe, which was one of the really marked
superiorities of what is now derided as the liberal epoch. The queer
provincial imperialism, now preached in so many parts of the Press, does
not strike me as in any way superior to those hopes about the
resurrection of Hellas, for which Byron died and Gladstone pleaded.
Whatever agreements or disagreements there may be about details of
diplomacy, every educated person must agree that the re-establishment of
Greece was a landmark of history. It was the first modern constructive
check, or obstacle, to the long unlimited and fatalistic landslide of
Islam. Or again, the presence of the Greek priest and the grand
Byzantine tradition of the Orthodox Church, side by side with the
national tradition of Westminster, though neither is of my own cult, is
a real reminder of the universal part played by religion in the past. It
is certainly of far more interest to any thinking person than the
unthinking ramblings about modern religion to be found in the modern
newspapers. And the fact that the lady whom we all welcomed to the
ruling family of our country is also connected with the heroic story of
a Balkan people, may serve to remind us that epics and empire and a
great peasant culture belonged to Serbia before politicians and pressmen
had the fancy of calling it Yugoslavia.

Some of our journalists want to jockey us into a sort of Jingo pacifism;
an insularity which essentially denies that we are a civilized country
and a part of civilization. They would assure us feverishly that Dover
can have no possible relation to Calais. They would insist that no
single Englishman, in all history, has ever pronounced or mispronounced
the name of Wipers. They must wonder artlessly why a seventeenth-century
cannon in the Castle at Edinburgh still bears the name of Mons Meg. They
may possibly be puzzled by the fact of an English country-house being
called Blenheim or a London railway-station being called Waterloo. I do
not know where they draw the line; but I must confess to a certain glee
and gratification in the fact that this Royal Marriage did not even
confine itself to a Channel-tunnel between Dover and Calais, but
actually built a bridge that stretches across all Europe from the
western extreme of Great Britain to the eastern extreme of Greece. It is
the great defect of a mere mechanical machinery of majorities that it
always leaves out that great democracy of the dead who are truly
described as the great majority. Rituals and festivals, like those of a
great national or international wedding-day, contain a thousand things
to remind us that our countrymen inherit an experience much more lively
and complex than any such local and temporary solution; and warn us
against allowing the present to become more narrow than the past.


This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia